|THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1998)|
|Time: 110 mins.|
Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The SWEET HEREAFTER is a film about parents and children, mainly fathers and daughters, that painfully explores the deep underbelly of pain, trust and loss. It is a rich, multi-layered work that was hard for me to get a real hold of, though it definitely had a hold on me. The viewer is brought through the story against their will, because not only have you slowed down to watch this accident you are forced to meet the people and deal with their pain and anger. If we had to get involved in this way with every accident we stopped to watch, there'd be fewer looky-loos I'm sure.
The lone survivor, played by Sarah Polley, leads us through the film with the story of the Pied Piper, who is, in the case of this tiny Canadian town, the bus accident. It killed all of the children, except Nicole (Polley's character) she was paralyzed in the accident changing the identity of the town forever. A budding musician with a "unique" relationship with her father, NIcole feels "left" by the others, her way of life destroyed by her survival. Enter Mitchell Stevens, played by Ian Holm, who is a lawyer trying to gather the bereaved parents together to sue the town for what must have been their negligence. After all, buses just don't careen off the road for no reason. The suit splinters the town into even smaller pieces as the parents grieve and grab onto anything that will try to give them solace.
While collecting evidence for the case, Holm's character is dealing with his own loss of his only daughter to continued substance abuse. He has forever lost his little girl and all he can do is try to hold on to the shards of their past together. The pain, fear and exhaustion of this relationship plays out in every gesture of his body. He is being taken on a road to nowhere where every bump brings more pain, much like the parents, and though he looks there is no way to get off. The only end to his current pain is his daughter's death something that he waits for everyday but that will only change the focus of his pain, not eliminate it.
In the end, Nicole is supposed to be the surviving parents' salvation. Her testimony, and current physical state, are what they are counting on to win a big settlement. However, in her deposition she contradicts her earlier statements by suddenly remembering that the driver was going too fast, destroying all hopes of a successful lawsuit. She knows that the money will not bring her life back to the way it was. In fact, it will make her even more invisible to her father. And if she has to suffer every second with what her life has become, he's going to as well. Despite all this, the SWEET HEREAFTER was not an upsetting or depressing film to watch. It was an intriguing story about life in a small town and the relationships that grow out of it. About how people react to pain and loss. Not a "happy" film, but definitely an interesting one.