The Life Before Her Eyes
Film review by: Witney Seibold
I must warm you up front: this is another one in which I will give away the ending. Of course, when I could guess the “twist” ending before I even saw the film, I think it’s fair to talk about it openly in a review.
Vadim Perelman, the man behind “The House of Sand and Fog” was responsible for this slow-moving, deliberately misleading psychodrama. I did not see “House,” but many critics highly praised it. If “The Life Before Her Eyes” is any indicator, though, he’s taken a leap away from his good senses.
The film skips back and forth in time. In the present day, we are introduced to Diana (Evan Rachel Wood), the school’s bad girl. She doesn’t do her homework, smokes weed, sleeps with a twentysomething punk loser, and is a general burden to her angry, angry mother. When Diana becomes close friends with the school’s goody-goody Maureen (Eva Amurri), who is chaste, cute-as-a-button, and talks openly with Diana about very adult problems, Diana gains some much-needed self-credibility. All of this is interrupted, however, by a violent school shooting, and we see Diana and Maureen trapped in a bathroom with the killer, be asked to make a Sophie’s choice of which one should die…
Then we are introduced to Diana about a decade in the future. She is now played by Uma Thurman, and is wracked by guilt, can barely control her own daughter Emma (Gabrielle Brennan), and is living a general life if stuck-in-a-rut-ness. Diana married one of her professors, and is now suspicious of his fidelity. She is still scowled at by the people who knew her when she was a teenager. And she can’t stand that she was never able to escape this little town like she and Maureen always wanted to. And where is Maureen? Well, I guess we know which girl was killed in the bathroom all those years ago.
Or do we? You see, the Thurman Diana keeps having increasingly hallucinatory episodes alluding Emma’s very existence; she goes missing a lot, that sort of thing. Meanwhile, the Wood Diana begins having guilt issues about having an abortion with her skuzzy twentysomething punk boyfriend. If said abortion had been brought to term, Diana would have named the baby… you guessed it… Emma.
Is Emma real? Was she aborted? Is she a hallucination in Thurman’s eyes? How much of this film is hallucination? And is the Thurman life, so wracked with guilt and pain and uncertainty, really just the life that flashed before the teenage Diana’s eyes before she was killed? Was it… The Life Before Her Eyes? Yeah, that’s what I thought going in.
The photography is slow and languorous, and the director spends way too much time showing gently floating petals, lightly falling dew, and the delightfully bright rainbows cascading off the misty eyelashes surrounding Evan Rachel Wood’s limpid blue eyes like the welcoming arms of a hundred happy caterpillars. I would be tempted to call it a beautiful film, if it weren’t so unabashedly uninteresting.
“The Life Before Her Eyes” is not so much a “twisty” film as it is an aggrivating runaround. The film shows us one scene, then repeats it later in the film, but with slight differences. It changes its own dialogue right before us. It alters circumstances, and withholds vital information just so it can be revealed at a more melodramatic moment. This is not good storytelling.
The screenplay (by Emil Stern) is based on a novel by Laura Kasischke. Perhaps in a novel, where one has the time and patience to really live in the half-stable mind of a teenager’s fantasy world, it would make a little more sense. The film is just bad.