Rating -

Drama (US); 1998; Rated R; 172 Minutes

Oprah Winfrey: Sethe
Danny Glover: Paul D
Thandie Newton: Beloved
Kimberly Elise: Denver
Beah Richards: Baby Suggs

Produced by Ronald M. Bozman, Jonathan Demme, Kate Forte, Gary Goetzman, Edward Saxon, Steven Shareshian and Oprah Winfrey; Directed by Jonathan Demme; Screenwritten by Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese and Adam Brooks

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Jonathan Demme’s "Beloved" constructs itself like the Earth’s interior. Within the essence of its existence lies the core, the source of importance, and all around it are these numerous, equally-important layers that can’t survive without the others. These extra layers are formed by the events brought on by the core, and as time passes by, they evolve together to demonstrate a change in life and evolution. Even as this movie ends, the process of it’s growth does not stop. The forces of it remain in a thought-provoking sense within our minds. Days after seeing it, things you witnessed continue to construct. As it continues, you realize that this evolution of these layers continues to change, and will probably never stop. The movie will remain on our minds probably for the rest of our lives.

With this lyrical metaphor, "Beloved" announces itself onto the screen by giving us the internal layer of an important, growing story. It takes place near the end of the American slavery period, where Sethe, played by Oprah Winfrey, lives her life like a typical African-American woman who has recently been subject to freedom. She seems, on the outside, like the average woman in the south proud of her freedom, but as we slowly learn in outside layers of her personality, she stopped at nothing to prevent her children from experiencing the trauma and humiliation she had endured during her time as a slave. Considering to herself that nothing is worse than slavery, she planned to kill her four children in order to prevent them experiencing such cruel circumstances. When she managed to murder one of them, appropriately named Beloved, she was caught in her act and thus prevented from doing this to her other offspring. Years later, when giving birth to a new daughter named Denver (Kimberly Elise), the breaking of the water sack during labor was a spiritual sign that permitted her daughter, Beloved, to be resurrected. As the movie demonstrates in one of its thought-provoking opening scenes, Sethe’s house is haunted by the spirit of Beloved, with red light flickering in the foreground of the house. Paul D, played by Danny Glover, sees this light when he attempts to enter her house. Seeing it, he asks "What kinda evil do ya got in there?" But Sethe, being a woman of confused motives and spiritual understanding, replies, "it ain’t evil. Just sad."

Sethe is a character that is constructed just like the plot. She seems normal on the outside layer, but within her soul lies torment and aggression, as if the core is made of things unique to her surroundings. Normally, one wouldn’t consider death an easy way out (even for slavery), but who’s to say she did the wrong thing, though? After all, we’re talking about one of America’s darkest ages, and we’re talking about a woman who, probably, thought deep in her mind that there was no easier way out.

But our attention does not last on her. A little later in the movie, she discovers Beloved, now in human form, instead of the spiritual. Beloved at this point bears the body and tendencies of the average teenage girl, yet the mind of an infant, which was the state she was originally murdered in. Thandie Newton, who plays the title character, approaches her role in the best way possible. She brings life to the character with her limited mind span and her human form. She seems like a teenager, but has the intelligence of the child she truly is. And we believe it; Thandie Newton makes sure that we believe she’s still an infant on the inside.

In one scene, for example, she and Denver witness two turtles in a mating situation. Beloved, carrying the hormones of a teenager and the mind of a child, grows curious of this process and asks Paul D, at one point, to "touch her on the inside part."

There are so many more constructed situations that evolve this story that they are too numerous to calculate. All of them relate to what the premise gives us; what drove Sethe to decide the fate of her children? Was she that desperate? Was she that confused? Was that the right or wrong choice? How does she feel about it after Beloved’s rebirth?

They come together and leave us with several thought-provoking questions on our minds. This is probably one of the most difficult films that you can ever attempt to follow, and it seems obvious that you think about the movie long after you’ve seen it. Sometimes, it may be helpful to see it again, so the mental picture of these numerous situations comes together a little clearer.

The metaphors and psychological torment and emotion the movie indulges us in is proof that Jonathan Demme and his crew members went through hell themselves to make this movie. The film, which follows a Pulitzer-Prize novel by Tony Morrison, documents the evils and horrors of slavery, as well as the passion and meanings of family relationships and the force of life. Our decisions and actions all have consequences. Two questions remain: which decisions do we make and are they the best ones for these situations?

You take all of these into context, and "Beloved" emerges the best movie of 1998. Considering what this industry has been through this year, no 1998 movie will surpass its superiority. It’s a promise. There will be none.

© 1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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