By Mike Derderian
“I’m the beginning, I’m the end, and when I die my children will only inherit the wind,” the seagull announced. The same wind blew a stranded spirit off the shores of remembrance to the seas of obscurity and oblivion.
A sailor afloat at sea and desperately clutching a wooden log with his numb hands asked the seagull. “Where do we go when our bodies no longer exist? What happens to our essence, thoughts and hearts? And do we just dissolve like a grain of salt in a cup filled with our own tears?”
“Worry not brother of the sea for when your soul abandons its mortal resting place, it is carried away and safely by thistledown to the heavens above,” said the seagull in a reassuring pace. Comforted by these words the sailor let go of the log and allowed his body to sink. He knew that his pure spirit would rise through the crawling seaweed, schools of fish and high above the surface of the salty water to a place neither you nor me have seen but in our dreams.
Nothing is more beautiful than thistledown slowly passing near one’s face on a windy day, however, do not stomp it with your feet or hold it captive in your hand for a long time for it might bear the seeds of a seafarer’s soul like in the yarn you just read.
The question that I’m going to ask you is can thistledown carry a human soul, which according to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2003 film 21 Grams weighs only 21 grams? “They say we all lose 21 grams… at the exact moment of our death. Everyone. And how much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost? When do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with them? How much is gained? How much is gained?” contemplates Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), who is lying on bed and connected to a resuscitator hospital bed waiting for a heart transplant, “twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels… the weight of a hummingbird… a chocolate bar. How much did 21 grams weigh?”
This tear-jerking movie will cram your head with a ton of un-answerable questions funneling into a bigger dysfunctional query: Why do we die?
During the film’s duration—124 minutes—you will experience nothing but feelings of pain, suffering and revenge that connects and disturbs the lives of six people, who never have met before.
In addition to its existentialist questions, 21 Grams is crammed with a cast of talented actors, whom brilliantly added depth and a shower of honest emotions to a complicated plot that turns out to be not so complicated halfway in the middle of its rushing sequences.
Along with Penn, who probably gave the performance of his life, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benicio Del Toro all gave plausible performances. They all supported each other and there is no best actor award for this movie.
In the case of Sean Penn’s performance—he certainly got the best part not to mention lines—it was brilliant because it definitely touched upon the fragility of the human heart and emotions. His portrayal of a sickly man, who suffers a dysfunctional heart, with a psychological and morality crisis was so realistic that his character eventually became an epitome of pain and sacrifice near the end.
Paul Rives is a fallen angel waiting for salvation at a hospital ward. A place he ironically refused to be in the beginning but even angels sometimes have to fall in order to fulfill a grander purpose. He is married to Mary Rivers (Gainsbourg), a caring wife turned apathetic because of Paul’s ailment and moody disposition. In fear that he might die one day she desperately wants to bear his child even if it means to undergo surgery. Yes, due to an abortion she became barren.
Rivers sacrifices his own life to save another, a stranger… but not quite. If I delve any deeper into the plot I will be dubbed a spoiler columnist that is why I will give you the general outlines and leave the rest for you to sum up while watching this breathtaking drama.
We have Cristina Peck (Watts), who is happily married to Michael (Danny Huston) with whom she has two wonderful kids. This will all change as all things in life do. Watts’ role was a bit edgy but truthful as she faithfully depicted the stages of despair that a person undergoes after being hit by a tragic and sudden crisis: Death in the family.
Jack Jordan (Del Toro) was the man responsible in changing the lives of both families and in the process he managed to change his. Jordan is a man on a self-catharsis journey after re-embracing Christianity. He is an ex-convict seeking salvation in his own way: By taking care of his two kids and wife (Melissa Leo), who is not so very pleased with her husband’s religious approach to life.
Even the soundtrack’s mellowness and bitter tunes, and offbeat tempo leaning towards the banal dim-themed and grim-colored locations contributed to 21 Grams’ charged up atmosphere. But the entire plot is heightened and supported by the actors’ performances because in the end this isn’t a beautiful or beautifully shot movie.
In order to understand the story behind 21 Grams all you have to do is keep track of its flashing sequences and puzzle it together. This is actually the fun part about it—a genius step on part of Inarritu—because it will keep you glued to your seat.