‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This months theme is ‘grief’.
Lars Von Trier hasn’t been famed for his good treatment and depiction of women and Antichrist arguably demonstrates misogynistic themes most explicitly of any of his films. (Whether the movie was meant to be anti-women is up for debate- here’s an illuminating article for those interested ).
Ignoring Trier’s questionable politics, Antichrist is a perfect examination of grief in the bleakest and most difficult way. Feeling responsible for the death of her infant child, a woman’s overwhelming guilt and loss lead to her suffering acutely from an unknown illness. Her husband, a therapist, decides to take her to the isolated woods they used to frequent as a family, which she now intensely fears, believing it will help her to find consolation for her grief. Charlotte Gainsbourg is stunning and deeply upsetting. I’ve always had a problem with Willem Dafoe, I just don’t trust him, and I feel my siding with Gainsbourg made Antichrist somewhat easier to watch.
Trier merges desperately grim considerations of the grief with ideas about womanhood and witchcraft (which is where some feminist critics have had a problem with the film). There are several particularly squirm-inducing moments which make the definitely not being for the faint hearted (and do very little for Trier’s protestations against being dubbed a woman-hater). Gruesomeness aside, however, Antichrist should be hailed for being unsettling in less bait ways. Apart from brief instances of opera, there’s very little music in the film. Its soundtrack is more reliant on the ambiguously diegetic, haunting screeches and buzzes that encompass the inhospitality of the natural surroundings. The way nature is handled, and made repulsive, is what I found most interesting and engaging about the film; it is easy to create a fear of the dark, but invoking horror into commonly safe and inviting surroundings is far more impressive and engaging. One scene in particular has been famed for its ridiculousness wherein, Willem Defoe chances upon an auto-cannibalistic, talking fox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L2ooG_MX9E .Looking past its admittedly being a little silly, it’s a pretty stunning moment- creating a numb feeling in the audience that enables better understanding of (or isolation from?) Gainsbourg’s character’s trauma. –Joanna Mason
Many films depicting grief often centre around mother and child, such as Rabbit Hole, or the recent Meadowland. When ruptured, the grief is beyond our comprehension. The sheer powerfulness of that mother-son or mother-daughter bond is perhaps why it is so often depicted in film. Cake (2014) is no different, exploring familiar territory but in a captivating way. I am not a fan of Jennifer Aniston so I was skeptical about seeing the film or the raves about her performance. However, it truly is worthy of the buzz she generated that year (although was unable to get an Oscar nomination). Aniston plays Claire, a chronic pain sufferer who grapples with the aftermath of the car accident that killed her son and left her partially disabled. She is also getting over the suicide of a group member and friend from her Chronic Pain group. Claire is cynical and acid-tounged, her sarcasm can cut like a knife, therefore she often alienates those around her who are just trying to help in her grieving process. Cake is raw and poignant, will move you to tears while making you laugh. Critics seem to complain about the film’s pace, but I found it incredibly engaging. The film leaves small clues as to what happened to Claire which culminates in the rousing ending, I was personally eager to see how it would all unfold. Cake is anchored on Aniston’s incredible performance, capturing the physical and mental trials of grief. The film trenches familiar ground, a mother losing a child, yet shows those who handle grief differently, outlandishly and with silver tongues. –Caroline Madden
When it comes to depicting grief in film, the hope is for the audience to experience empathy. One of the last classes I took at my university, “Trauma Across Media,” had me reflect over several questions: Can we truly feel the grief of traumatic experiences, even if we weren’t there? Can representations of trauma be authentic to those who experienced the same or similar traumatic experiences?
The film Room directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, who is also the writer of the novel, tells the story of a 5 year-old boy named Jack and his young mother ‘Ma’. Jack was born in a small room that is different from most rooms; it is complete with a bathroom, a kitchen, a wardrobe, and a bed. The only way for sunlight to enter is through the skylight. Everything else Jack knows about the world is seen through his television set.
Back in high school, I remember my Spanish teacher talking about the book, but I had totally forgotten about it until hearing about the film this year. The trailer was kept pretty vague, but when I watched the film, I automatically thought of the Fritzl case. In Austria, a man named Josef Fritzl kept his daughter in his basement for 24 years and impregnated her multiple times, resulting in eight births. I was curious to see if Donoghue’s story was inspired by this one, so I decided to read Room’s IMDB trivia (because isn’t IMDB trivia everyone’s go-to?) There were two conflicting trivia posts saying that it was inspired by the story and that it wasn’t. In Room’s case, Ma is abducted by “Old Nick” as a teen, and is repeatedly abused. Jack is a product of the abuse Old Nick inflicts on Ma, but Ma makes sure to keep this horrific reality away from Jack’s childhood.
Room is the one film that made me openly weep throughout it’s entirety. I am a cry baby in general and tend to cry during many films, but this one ruined me. Grief is shown through multiple characters of this film, in different ways and for different reasons, which could be why there were so many opportunities for me to weep. This film isn’t just about Jack and Ma living in Room, but how they cope in the outside world once they escape. This so-called freedom from their captor and enclosed living space does not bring instant relief. Jack becomes dysphoric due to his very unfamiliar surroundings; he asks Ma multiple times if they can return to Room. Ma begins to regret keeping Jack with her in Room, that there could have been a way to at least free Jack and to have given him a normal childhood. After they escape, Ma’s parents (Jack’s grandparents) reveal to have had a failed marriage and cope with the return of Ma and the existence of Jack in polar-opposite ways.
I think the dramatic irony of it all really affected me. Even the fact that I came into the movie knowing it would be about two characters who cope with adjusting to the real world, I still wept when I saw how frightened they were following through with their escape plan. Although Jack’s imagination was often presented through his own monologues, the contrast of his sheltered existence in such a terrible situation made it all the more heart-breaking. This sort of reminded me of Life is Beautiful, where a father and his son get put into a concentration camp, but the father tells his son they’re merely playing a game. The ‘rules’ of the game that the father explains to his son are actually just ways to survive the concentration camp, but the son doesn’t understand the how severe the situation is. The blissful ignorance of Jack is perhaps, in a way, a coping mechanism for Ma and the inspiration for her survival. Although, the film provides glimpses of Ma’s deeply rooted grief, and as a result, Jack’s obligation to be self-sufficient at times.
Grief is perhaps the emotion that I enjoy empathizing with the most when I watch a film. This may sound weird because it isn’t necessarily an emotion that people desire to experience, and I definitely do not think I can feel certain characters’ grief to the extent of their trauma, because I have most likely not lived those traumas. Watching grief on film allows us to connect with characters we will never know, but still care about. –Cristina Vazquez de Mercado
I’d been fascinated by the trailer for Maleficent for a long while before I saw the actual film in theaters. I was excited at the thought of a revisionist take on one of the coolest and most memorable Disney villains, and saw Angelina Jolie as the perfect choice for lead. The Lana del Rey song didn’t hurt too much either. (“Haunting” seems a good descriptor, but oh God, kill me if I hear someone else describe her work that way.) When I finally got around to watching the movie, I was surprised by its maturity. This was a film that dealt with betrayal and trauma, as well as the grief that stems from loss of self. Pretty shortly into the film, Maleficent is betrayed by her former friend, Stefan, when he drugs her and steals her wings while she is unconscious. These wings, he knows, are Maleficent’s source of strength–both physical and emotional. He takes her wings out of pure selfishness and greed, knowing this action will secure him the crown. When Maleficent wakes up, she first feels pain, then devastating loss. She cries out, and viewers see her grief begin to take form. Angelina Jolie and the makers of the film have spoken out on this scene as a metaphor for rape. I was aware of this going into the film and prepared myself to search for any subtle ties, thinking Disney would hold back in its interpretation. Quite the contrary–the similarities were obvious. I was shocked and impressed by the frank portrayal of violation and loss. When Maleficent’s world is threatened by Stefan and his armies, she channels her grief into passionate anger, fighting for her friends and herself. -Juliette Faraone
The Kill Bill series tells the story of Beatrix Kiddo (aka Black Mamba aka The Bride) as she seeks revenge on the people responsible for her four year coma and the death of her unborn child. She must fight her way through the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and their leader before she can rest easy.
I know most people consider these movies as “revenge flicks” (in fact, the first film begins with the old Klingon proverb ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’), and while this theme is absolutely impossible to ignore, I also feel the theme of grief is quite prominent as well. The loss of her unborn child is what set The Bride on this bloody path in the first place. True, had she never been pregnant, she wouldn’t have attempted to leave the Squad, but I think it’s also fair to assume that if she hadn’t lost a child, her revenge would look a lot more selfish and “impure”. Including the pregnancy turns this from a hack and slash into a journey for closure.
It’s also not just her child she grieves. Although she kills the Squad, it’s clear that she still respects these people, as she used to work along side them. In each case, she attempts to give them as noble and honorable a death as possible (with the exception of Elle Driver), as if she doesn’t necessarily WANT to kill them.
And if you’re still not convinced grief plays a huge part in this movie, The Bride literally spends one of the last scenes of the film crying on the bathroom floor over everything she’s done. –Tyler Dziubunski