Long before “The Life Before Her Eyes” reaches its conclusion, you might begin to wonder about the current dispositions of students who survived the Columbine massacre and others like it.
Have they revisited their school? Can they still live in the same community, knowing they will drive by the site of the tragedy? Perhaps more troubling is the curse of survivor’s guilt. “Why my best friend and not me?”
Those questions might cross your mind as you get to know Uma Thurman’s Diana McFee. On the 15th anniversary of a Columbine-like catastrophe in her school, she is still in the community, driving past the school where a teenager went on a murderous rampage, at one point cornering Diana and her friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) in the girls’ room.
‘The Life Before Her Eyes’
DIRECTED BY Vadim Perelman
SCREENPLAY BY Emil Stern, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke
STARRING Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Gabrielle Brennan, Brett Cullen and Jack Gilpin
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
It’s no surprise that Diana is troubled, haunted by the experience. Still, she soldiers on, teaching art history and caring for her daughter and husband, a professor at a local college.
As if sensing that we need to know more about Diana, Maureen, and the events of that crucial day, Vadim Perelman’s drama, adapted from Laura Kasischke’s novel, alternates between past and present. It serves up a tantalizing narrative, teasing us with the notion that before it all ends, we will profit from a startling revelation.
No doubt, some viewers will find this approach annoying, its artifice a mere gimmick. But even though at times, the film seems a bit too clever for its own good, it captures our attention, drawing us into a narrative that keeps us involved and absorbed. If it is at times confusing, it is far from dissatisfying; it is likely that the experience will prod you into thinking and gabbing about it long after you have left the theater. In this regard, the film’s effect is not unlike that of “Sixth Sense.”
Thurman handles her role with a fine intelligence, but the most compelling performance is that of Evan Rachel Wood, who plays young Diana, the teenager who suffered on that awful day. Once more as in “Thirteen,” Wood demonstrates she is one of the most promising and talented young actresses working in film.
Like her future daughter Emma, Diana is a handful — an intelligent, rebellious girl who sleeps with a jerk, has an abortion, and in general, comes close to being labeled a class “slut.”
But as we observe, there is more to her. Like many high school girls with an outwardly perverse disposition, she is about to blossom into a smart, sensitive woman. (The original title for the film was “In Bloom.”) When the other students ridicule her biology teacher, played by Jack Gilpin, Diana stays after class to thank him for his efforts and for his wisdom. Later, she is moved by a lecture delivered by the same professor she hopes to marry. It is about the relationship between the origin of conscience and the existence of a deity.
As we watch, we cannot help wonder just how that girls’ room encounter will play out. Each time the movie reverts to it, we see a bit more of those chilling moments when two friends face what they fear is certain death.
I can appreciate how some in the audience might view “The Life Before Her Eyes” as a pedantic exercise in metaphysical terror. But as hard as I try to adopt that position, I cannot concur with that conclusion. This movie got to me. Let down your guard and I am guessing it will affect you as well.