Like Purple, Beloved is an epic saga of poor blacks immediately
following the Civil War, this time set near Cincinnati, Ohio. Sethe (Winfrey)
is a former slave with a teenaged daughter named Denver (Kimberly Elise).
They live in a rundown house that is filled to the ceiling with very troubled
spirits. Sethe and Denver have apparently learned to accept the frequent
spectral visits, but when Sethe's old friend Paul D (Danny Glover) comes
calling, he is a bit unnerved. But he decides to stay a while anyway.
Paul D and Sethe used to work together on a Kentucky plantation called
Sweet Home, although, as they both agree, neither word fits their recollection
of the place. After enduring some particularly cruel treatment, the pregnant
Sethe (played in flashbacks by Lisa Gay Hamilton) had escaped and walked
many miles, finally crossing the Ohio river. Paul D had gone another way,
and at the film's start they haven't seen each other since that fateful
night before her departure. Sethe and Denver are still living in Ohio, but
gone are Sethe's other three children that she had sent before her. What
happened to them is the basis of her tormented story.
When Sethe, Paul D and Denver return home from a carnival one afternoon,
they find a mysterious young woman (Thandie Newton) in the yard. She has
traveled a long way and is in terrible condition. When they ask her name,
she replies by spelling it out in a hoarse voice: "B-E-L-O-V-E-D."
Seemingly retarded or suffering from some sort of brain damage, Beloved
eats like a starved animal and is only able to communicate in the most rudimentary
fashion. But she is convinced she is meant to be there, and so it looks
like the family is now four. At first, Denver is thrilled, Paul D is suspicious,
and Sethe is just plain confused. But what Beloved does to all their lives
is like what Little Boy did to Hiroshima.
Though Beloved's messages are heavy-handed, it is a rich, visual
film whose beauty does not sugar-coat the reality of the time. Director
Demme, who has such masterpieces as Philadelphia and The Silence
Of The Lambs under his belt, has filled it with high-impact flashbacks,
using color filters and different film stocks to evoke various periods in
the characters' lives. Busia's script is heavy and dark, and could have
been trimmed a great deal (the big mystery of Beloved's identity is predictable
to all but the other characters). Glover, Elise, and Hamilton are quite
believable; Winfrey the weaker link. Zambian-born Newton is overdramatic,
but it could be argued that there is a reason for that, discovered late
in the film. Colleen Atwood's costume design is impeccable; she may well
garner one of the inevitable nominations, despite the fact that contact
lenses can clearly be seen on many actors' eyes during close-ups.
Will Beloved be nominated for Best Picture? Probably. Will it win? I doubt it. But you can't second-guess the power in those old haunts. ****
See Current Reviews
See FilmQuips Archive