November 15, 1998 -- "Beloved" is a rare, terrifying and yet powerful and wonderful film about the secrets that women carry in their hearts.
It is rare, because in this case the story is almost entirely about black women. These are people seldom seen in American cinema and if it were not for Oprah Winfrey (recently voted the most powerful woman in show business) this film could not have been made.
This film brings Winfrey and Danny Glover together again. You may recall that Winfrey and Glover were paired in "The Color Purple," Steven Spielberg's fine 1985 film which also featured black women as central characters in the film. It was Winfrey's screen debut and she gave a star-making performance, as did Goldberg.
Winfrey again stars as a survivor in this film. A slave named Sethe who escapes from Kentucky to Ohio in the 1860s and starts a new life. Unfortunately, she is unable to shed the past, and it continues to haunt her on multiple levels.
One day another former slave, Paul D (Glover) comes back into her life after a long absence. He immediately realizes that Sethe and her daughter, Denver (Kimberly Elise) are living in a house that is haunted by the spirit of Sethe's older daughter, who died there. Paul D tries to exorcise the ghost, but eventually realizes that Sethe is unable to break free from it.
Next, it falls to Denver to try to break free of the spirit's powerful spell as Sethe falls into a deep despair, overcome by the ghost of remorse. The story is a balance between man's capacity for extreme inhumanity to his fellow man and the power of the human spirit to endure all suffering and prevail. Women often have a wellspring of secrets that they keep and this film explores some of those deep secrets. It is a sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding experience, but always powerful.
In addition to the fine performances by the above actors, there is also a remarkable performance by Thandie Newton, who plays Beloved, another of the film's main characters. While the film is powerful and moving, I would have preferred that the supernatural aspects of the film would have been played as mental, not as physical realities. It also could have been shortened (it is nearly three hours long), but overall, it is a well-acted, directed (by Jonathan Demme "Silence of the Lambs") and photographed film. It rates a B. Parents should also note there are disturbing violent and sexual images in the film, as well as some nudity.
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