Cinerama: Beloved (Part I)

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

Beloved (Part I)

By Mike Derderian

What if I can hold her hand? Dead she may be, but imagine if Rossetti managed to visit me!

The book says: “Until death do you apart.” Why? Why can’t we be with our loved ones forever? Well, I do it all the time in my dreams—or lets say nightly hallucinations. Sleep to me is but a parting from our reasonable world into another realm, where we are able to meet with the spirits of the dead. At times, I wake up rejuvenated after spending some quality time with my late grandfather or uncle; so I ask myself, what is it that we take from our dead ones that makes us strong and joyful even for a brief moment of time? It could last a minute, an hour, a year or eternity if possible.

Is it because they are our loved ones, or are we still loved by them in a way that goes beyond our understanding and exceeds the four cold corners of a lifeless grave?

After a turbulent week filled with film titles such as Ghost, All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Haunting, The Frighteners and The Others, watching the 1998 Beloved did nothing but add more perplexity to my mental struggle and flesh and bone existence.

This doesn’t mean that I found Jonathan Demme’s mystical film confusing, but the problem is that I always get absorbed into what I watch and it stays in my system for a long time until another film eventually oozes it out. That’s not very healthy and if you still read my column you’ll touch upon the side effects.

Based on a novel with the same title by Toni Morrison, Demme brilliantly—if not painfully—captured how a former slave is tormented by her past in this story of love in its thickest. Now, Morrison herself was the granddaughter of a slave and this would alone answer our question on how such a film managed to capture the feelings of a slave that lived in one of the darkest periods of American history, when man once enslaved his fellow man.

The 172 minute tragic film stars Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Kimberly Elise, Beah Richards, Albert Hall and Thandie Newton, who more than brilliantly portrayed Beloved in a performance that surely deserves a round of applause as the film comes to an end. Let me elaborate more my dear reader; take bad behavior, disgusting eating habits, childish and a charming at times personality, plus violent anger tantrums, and mix them in a blender. Add in a pinch of a very scary hissing voice and cook on a mild fire for about 20 years and you’ll end up with Beloved’s personality.

How does she fit in our story, which happens to hold her name as the title?

Now, the end of the American civil war and the abolishment of slavery for Sethe was probably the end of a cruel and unjust existence but it surely didn’t stop painful memories from haunting her. After believing that her life finally came to balance and peace, as she lived happily with her daughter Denver and loving man Paul in their little humble cottage, a mysterious visitor one day proved it was the opposite.

A lot of people believe that the dead wish us to remember them and pray for their souls every now and then, which is something most of us do—right? But what happens if you forget to do so? Be very afraid, very, very afraid. Nah, nothing will happen, you’ll just find Beloved knocking on your doors.

Beloved is the personification of pain, the same pain that was repressed by Sethe (Winfrey), who decided that it was best to forget the past and indulge herself in work and looking after Denver and Paul. But as Freud bluntly puts it, feelings are bound to resurface—however, he forgot to tell us in what form.

The ominous musical score playing in the background heightens the bleak atmosphere that was enhanced by Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography along with Demme’s choice for a very grim location that turns grimmer by the moment.

An uncanny coincidence in this film is that Newton’s first name, Thandiwe, which is an African name and is pronounced Tan-dee, means “Beloved.”

Talk about extreme method acting; however, judging by her ability to capture our attention with more than looks and talent, as in other films, Newton certainly deserves to be ranked among Hollywood’s best young actors and actresses for this role alone. In addition to her performance, Winfrey, Glover and Richards, who portrayed Baby Suggs, Sethe’s mother-in-law, gave us good performances that reflected a sincere sense of love, hate, pain and fear.

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