A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.
Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a retired widow, living in a small apartment. She spends most of her time watching TV, especially a particular self-help show. She has delusions of rising above her current dull existence by being a guest on that show. Her son, Harry (Jared Leto) is a junkie but along with his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) has visions of making it big by becoming a drug dealer. Harry's girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) could be fashion designer or artist but is swept along in Harry's drug-centric world. Meanwhile Sara has developed an addiction of her own. She desperately wants to lose weight and so goes on a crash course involving popping pills, pills which turn out to be very addictive and harmful to her mental state. Written by
(At around 1 hour 27 minutes) The scene where Harry and Marion talk on the phone was shot simultaneously on adjacent parts of the same set through a live phone hookup so that actual reactions could be used. See more »
(at around 12 mins) When Sara is trying on the red dress but it won't zip up all the way, in the mirror behind her you can see the 'fat suit' used to give Ellen Burstyn the larger appearance. See more »
I respect and admire this movie, even though (and perhaps because) it is complex, occasionally irritating and often very hard to take. Frankly, I avoided seeing it for a long time, but now am glad I did. To complain that the film fails as a realistic portrayal of addiction is, I think, to miss the point. Far from being the mere depiction of a collective downward spiral fueled by drugs, the movie is in fact a meditation on loneliness, greed, corruption, desperation, and the pervasiveness/banality of media, among many other things.
The subtleties of the text are communicated, first and foremost, by superb acting. The performances of Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans are all revelatory. In particular, I was knocked out by Burstyn, who is almost comically pathetic in the beginning, but who manages by the end to convey her character's utter devastation in the truest, most heartbreaking manner imaginable. The others are absolutely perfect as well; I was simply astonished by Leto and especially Wayans (may he eschew "scary movies" forevermore). Connelly has perhaps the most difficult role in the film, with opportunity and motivation galore to go over the top, and she delivers not a single false note throughout.
My only real quibbles with the movie have to do with certain instances of the split-screen and jump-cut techniques, which struck me as somewhat gimmicky and repetitious, respectively. That being said, overall the style of the film is impressive and appropriate. The cinematography is beautifully conceived and executed, and the score is every bit as haunting as the performances (thanks largely to the work of the Kronos Quartet).
In sum, regardless of whether or not the subject matter itself shocks you, this movie will put the viewer through the proverbial wringer. Give it a chance, and you will connect with the characters and then witness their destruction (spiritual and otherwise). It is a punishing but unforgettable experience. I'm not sure whether I'd necessarily recommend it or not; it all depends on your personal tolerance level with regard to an unflinching portrayal of human nature and behavior at their most extreme and, ultimately, tragic. For my part, while I don't expect to watch this film very often in the future, I'm sure glad it'll be on the shelf.
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