(2003) The middle film from director Alejandro González Iñarritu's trilogy, between Amores Perros and Babel, brings together three bruised, broken, and wounded people as seen through a kaleidoscope of splintered pieces fallen from their fractured lives. Mental assembly required as you watch these shattered and scattered scenes, shuffled out of chronological order.
Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), a recovering drug addict, is a married mother of two young daughters, Laura and Katie. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a mathematics professor, is dying of heart failure, in need of a transplant; his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants to have his baby before he dies. Two years out of incarceration (where much of his life has been spent since he was a teenager), Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), married to Marianne (Melissa Leo), father of their two young children, has turned his life over to Jesus Christ.
On his way home for his own birthday party, Jack takes a corner too fast in his truck, running over a man and two children in the crosswalk; he doesn't stop. At the hospital Cristina, with her father and sister, is told that her girls are dead and her husband has severe brain damage. Soon after the doctors inform her that her husband has died while another patient is in critical need of a heart transplant: may they use Michael's heart? Paul gets a call that a heart is available.
Jack tells Marianne, who argues in opposition, that it is his duty to God to turn himself in; in prison Jack tells his minister: "I gave Him my life, and He betrayed me!" Before the heart transplant Mary, acting largely against Paul's wishes, arranged for an operation to correct damage done to her fallopian tubes from an abortion (unbeknownst to him) after she and Paul were previously separated; she will then have his child by artificial insemination. Paul hires a private detective to find out whose heart he has received. He tells Mary, "I want to know who I am now." She replies, "Let's look ahead together, not behind."
Following receipt of the detective's report (37-year-old architect Michael Peck killed in a hit-and-run accident), Paul watches Cristina at the sports club swimming before initiating contact. Chris tells her sister: "Nothing I can do is going to bring them back." In exasperation Mary says: "I thought you'd change after the transplant," to which Paul, whose change of heart has directed his attentions toward Cris, responds: "Neither of us changed." With his wife's help in hiring an attorney (using sale of his truck), Jack gets an early release from a two-year prison sentence.
After several bouts of illness, Paul consults his physician and learns that he is experiencing tissue rejection of the transplant: "I can't wait for someone else to die." Falling in love, grieving over the loss of her daughters, outraged that Jack Jordan is free from prison, Cris transplants her anger into Paul: "We have to kill him." As Paul lies in the "pre-corpse club" in a bed beside a man in a coma, wondering who will die first, a nurse informs Cris that her O-positive blood cannot be used for a transfusion because of a high level of illegal substance in her veins - also, did she know she was pregnant?
Numbers are doors that open into something bigger than ourselves, Paul had earlier revealed to Cris: dying he recalls having been told that we all lose 21 grams (the mass of five nickels, a hummingbird, or a chocolate bar) at the moment of death.
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