After Paul D. finds his old slave friend Sethe in Ohio and moves in with her and her daughter Denver, a strange girl comes along by the name of "Beloved". Sethe and Denver take her in and then strange things start to happen...
A couple allows a strange, autistic person to come in their house. She causes problems for the couple and reminds the woman of her previous daughter. Nonetheless, the couple takes her in and treats her well. Through Voodoo, she releases her spirits. Meanwhile, their remaining daughter tries to find work.
Slavery, brief freedom, and their lasting psychological presence. Some years after the Civil War, former slave Sethe lives with her grown daughter Denver outside Cincinnati. Sethe is stolid and hard working; Denver wants society. Paul D, a former slave who knew Sethe, happens on them and joins the farm and family, but not before the house rattles and pitches, as if spirits reject Paul D's coming. Next, inexplicably, a young woman about Denver's age arrives, behaving in childlike ways, speaking and walking awkwardly, calling herself "Beloved." Who she is, her effect on Sethe, and Paul D's responses propel Sethe into the past and Denver into a new maturity.
Based on the book by Toni Morrison, in which a slave is visited by the spirit of her deceased daughter.
- The story, set shortly after the Civil War, revolves around Sethe, a former slave living on the outskirts of Cincinnati. When the film begins, an angry poltergeist is terrorizing Sethe and her three children. After Sethe temporarily soothes the angry spirit, her two sons run away from home, never to return.
Ten years later, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), who by this time lives alone with her daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise), runs into Paul D. (Danny Glover) an old friend from Sweet Home, the plantation Sethe escaped from many years earlier. She invites him into the house where he encounters the angry spirit head-on. Paul D. stands his ground with the spirit, driving it off. After everything in the house calms down, Paul D. and Sethe, from a mixture of unexpressed emotions and the equal share of a painful past, have passionate sex in her bedroom. After Sethe invites him to stay for a while, he heartily agrees. Shortly after Paul D. moves in, a young woman (Thandie Newton) stumbles into Sethe's yard, falling into a deep sleep and loudly snoring beneath a tree. She is clean and well groomed, dressed in black silk dress and hat. Sethe and Denver take an immediate liking to the mysterious stranger, bringing her into the house and placing her in bed. Paul D. on the other hand feels suspicious; he wonders how someone who travelled such a long way could be so clean or have such soft well-maintained feet.
When the visitor awakes, she demands food in a voice that is croaky with disuse. When the women ask her name, she spells it out for them--Beloved.
Denver, who has experienced social isolation as the result of the goings on in the house, is especially happy to have Beloved around, spending many hours playing and talking with the young woman. One night, Beloved reveals her otherwordly origins. Denver, who immediately realizes the import of Beloved's confession, asks her never to tell Sethe who she really is. Beloved nastily informs her that she came to the house to see Sethe, not her, and that Denver is never to tell her what to do. However, Beloved does apologize to Denver once she realizes that she has hurt her feelings and the two young women quickly make up.
Shortly after, Beloved, sensing that Paul D. dislikes her, casts a spell on him that renders him powerless and sexually assaults him. Paul D. resolves to tell Sethe about what happened only to change his mind and ask Sethe to have a baby with him. Sethe, despite misgivings about her age, eagerly accepts his proposal.
Paul D. then tells a co-worker, Stamp Paid (Albert Hall) about his plans. Stamp Paid, who has known Sethe for many years, pulls an old newspaper clipping about Sethe out of his pocket. Paul D., who can't read, then asks Stamp Paid to tell him the story behind the clipping.
During a flashback, it is revealed that Sethe had run away from Sweet Home after a particularly brutal beating. (Sethe had been sexually assaulted at the instigation of Schoolteacher, the owner of Sweet Home, by several of the farm hands. She complained to Mrs. Garner, Schoolteacher's wife, who confronted him about what happened. Schoolteacher then ordered the field hands to whip her savagely, leaving a massive tree-like scar imprinted on her back.)) Heavily pregnant with her fourth child, Sethe arranges to have her three older children sent ahead to Cincinnati to live with their paternal grandmother, Baby Suggs (Beah Richards). After the children are gone, Sethe plans to slip off in the night with her husband where they will make their way to the Ohio River, rendevous with Stamp Paid, and cross into Ohio.
When her husband fails to show, Sethe runs off alone. She then crosses path with Amy Denver, a kind white woman who attends to Sethe's numerous injuries and delivers Sethe's child. She promises to name the baby Denver before Amy helps her cross the river. After arriving in Ohio, Sethe meets up with Stamp Paid, who delivers her to Baby Suggs' house. Although she is dismayed to discover that her husband never made it to his mother's house, she is overjoyed to be reunited with her children.
However, her happiness is short-lived. Slaves catchers are tipped off to the fact that Sethe is living with Baby Suggs. They come to the house to arrest Sethe, in a attempt to drag all of them back into the horrors of slavery. Sethe, desperate to prevent her children from reliving her own past, murders her older daughter by slitting her throat with a saw. She subsequently knocks her sons unconscious and nearly kills Denver by swinging her through the air by her ankles. (Stamp Paid manages to catch the baby before her head strikes the ground.)
Paul D., horrified by the revelation and suddenly understanding the origin of the poltergeist, confronts Sethe. Sethe unapologetically justifies her actions saying that the baby was better off dead than enslaved. Paul D. departs shortly thereafter, something that doesn't upset Sethe or the other women all that much.
After Paul D. leaves, Sethe, while sitting in front of a warm fireplace with Denver and Beloved, hears Beloved hum a familiar melody. She recognizes the song, as it is one she sang only to her children. Beloved tells her she has always known the song. At this point, Sethe realizes that Beloved is the re-incarnation of her dead daughter. Feeling a mix of elation and guilt, Sethe spends all her money on elaborate gifts for her daughters. After all the money is spent, however, Beloved demands more gifts, having increasingly destructive tantrums when she realizes that they will no longer be forthcoming.
Several months later, Beloved's malevolent presence causes living conditions in the house to deteriorate. The women live in complete squalor. Sethe has had a complete nervous breakdown, losing her job in the process. Consequently, there is little food to eat. Beloved, who has taken to walking around nude, is noticeably pregnant from her encounter with Paul D. Denver even more ashamed than she had been before almost completely withdraws from Sethe and Beloved, who have shunned her completely. However, with the spiritual manifestation and inspiration of her grandmother, Baby Suggs, Denver summons the strength to leave the house at last and seek employment, in order to save her mother and to somehow calm Beloved.
She seeks out her previous mentor, Lady Jones, whose school she left when a young boy questioned Denver about her mother's violent act. Although Lady Jones is unable to pay her for any domestic duties, she sees Denver off with a basket of food. When she later tells everyone at church of Sethe's predicament, baskets and plates of food begin appearing at 124.
Denver also decides to travel to the Bodwins home, which belongs to the white related pair of abolitionists who gave Baby Suggs 124 to live in, and also saved Sethe from being hung due to her crime. She appeals to Janey Wagon, who remembers Baby Suggs and takes pity on Denver, offering her a night shift that would allow her to take care of her mother during the daytime. Although Denver does not mention that Beloved is the main source of her mother's dilemma, Janey's suspicions are further heightened by Denver's odd behavior, and she discusses the problem with the local churchladies. After realizing that Beloved is Sethe's murdered daughter, they decide on a plan of action. While some believe Sethe had it coming to her, Ella, the one woman who helped bring Sethe to 124 along with Stamp Paid and witnessed Sethe's murder of her children along with him, disagrees. Although Sethe's crime alienated her along with the other churchladies, she believes something from such a terrible past cannot be allowed to interfere with the future, nor does it have the right to destroy its own mother. With this in mind, they march to 124, in hopes of exorcising the "demon" from Sethe's home.
Meanwhile, Denver sits quietly at 124, waiting for Mr. Bodwin to pick her up for her new job. Inside, Sethe chips away frantically at a block of ice, her mind further deteriorating as Beloved continues to dominate the household. When Denver informs her that she is leaving, Sethe hears nothing and continues to chip away at the ice. When Denver goes and sits down on the porch outside again, she notices a large group of women slowly approaching 124.
When Ella and the churchladies arrive at 124, they survey the home from outside its gate, as if determining what exactly lies within it. Suddenly, they begin to wail, sing hymns, and utter prayers out loud, hoping to bring the house some sort of peace. Inside, Sethe and Beloved hear the churchladies and after staring out of the window, Sethe begins to exit the house, but not before placing the ice pick into the sleeve of her dress. She grabs Beloved, who is dragging an old quilt along with her, and opens the door.
Upon seeing Beloved's round belly, thick and unkempt hair, and shining, smiling face, they begin to pray and wail increasingly. As they continue to do so, it seems to have somewhat of a positive effect on Sethe, as she begins to slowly come back to reality.
However, Mr. Bodwin arrives for Denver just as this is all occurring. Although, he is confused by everthing, he cannot tear his eyes away from Beloved's eccentric form. But as Sethe's eyes lock on Mr. Bodwin, it causes an opposite reaction. Instead of seeing Mr. Bodwin, who she already doesn't know, she notices his white attire, hat, and mustache, and instantly recollects Schoolteacher, the main source of her traumatic life and the horrifying events that followed. Without warning, she grabs the concealed ice pick and sprints towards "Schoolteacher," attempting to kill him. As Sethe runs towards the women and Mr. Bodwin, Beloved begins to scream loudly, as she remembers how her mother "left" her before and believes she is trying to do so again.
Denver races after Sethe, trying to stop her from killing Mr. Bodwin.
The churchladies, believing Sethe has snapped and is trying to attack them, swarm around Sethe and hold her down, in order to pray and calm her spirit.
Mr. Bodwin, oblivious to everything but Beloved, continues to stare at her.
Beloved's screaming rises to a fever pitch and in some way succumbing to the "loss" of her mother yet again, she disappears.
As the churchladies hold on to and pray over Sethe, Denver rises and looks towards the porch. She sees nothing but an old quilt lying in front of an open door.
Some months later, Paul D bumps into Denver at the marketplace. He notices that she has made quite a transformation: she speaks with confidence, maturity, and sincerity, and when Paul D offers her his opinion, she refuses it, stating that she "has her own." She tells him she has continued to work for the Bodwins and under the tutelage of Ms. Bodwin, may become a student at Oberlin College. When Paul D asks about Sethe, Denver expresses her worry over her mother, as she hasn't left her room or bed since the day Beloved "left." She soon departs, but she tells him that he can visit her mother, but to be careful of how he speaks to her.
Later at 124, Paul D arrives to find Sethe lying in her room. She is clearly suffering from a deep malaise, caused by Beloved's departure. Paul D assures Sethe that he will now take care of her, along with Denver. Sethe doesn't see the point, as Beloved is gone and she was her "best thing." Paul D disagrees, telling Sethe that she, in fact, is her own best thing.