The film adaptation of Laura Kasischke's lovely novel The Life Before Her Eyes begins with close-up images of gorgeous, colorful flowers shifting and morphing, one blossom blooming as another one dissolves. The symbolism of this — birth, bloom, change, eventual decay, and rebirth — shows up in a variety of ways throughout the film, both in visual metaphors and in the action and language within the story. It's a beautiful film, full of water and flowers and food and cats, but it all gets to be a bit too much by the end. And the end — for anyone who has read the novel, which was my April book club book — is rather baffling.
The story hinges on one fateful day in the lives of high school best friends Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri) when a classmate brings a gun to school and goes on a rampage. He enters the girls' bathroom and tells Diana and Maureen that he will have to kill one of them. From here, we flash to an adult Diana (Uma Thurman) living a wonderfully steady life: a beautiful young daughter, handsome husband, spacious house. But the adult Diana begins to notice strange things happening, quirks about her daughter that seem off and other occurrences that leave her unsettled. The narrative bounces from scenes of adult Diana to scenes from before the day of the shooting which fill in some of the story of Diana's friendship with Maureen, and her adolescence in general. Every so often, we return to the girls' bathroom and learn another tiny piece of what happens on that terrible day.
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Uma Thurman's journey in this film is layered and intimate. Some of the most powerful scenes feature a confused and agonizingly haunted adult Diana fighting like mad to keep it together as her perception of reality unravels. Evan Rachel Wood is equally arresting in her portrayal of a young woman testing out the bad girl's life while fiercely loving and secretly admiring her born-again Christian best friend, Maureen.
It takes a true visual artist to interpret Kasischke's dreamy, poetic language into vivid painting-like images that burst with color, texture and emotion. For this, I commend director Vadim Perelman. In regard to the story and the adaptation of Kasischke's work, there are aspects I loved, like the honest-feeling friendship between the young Diana and Maureen. But some parts — particularly certain deviations from the story and some hammer-over-the-head symbolism ("The heart is the body's strongest muscle" is repeated way too many times to count, for example, in case we missed the double meaning the first time) left me feeling frustrated.
For the trailer and video clips from The Life Before Her Eyes, check out movies.ivillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures