This afternoon I went to The Grove, L.A.’s Disney-fied outdoor shopping mall to catch a movie because I felt like I need to see something inspiring and uplifting. Boy, did I see the wrong movie for that. I had heard that 21 Grams was one of the best movies of the year, and it’s definitely one of the best acted. Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and especially Naomi Watts give incredible, complex performances, but the skillfully-directed film may be the bleakest I’ve ever seen. Just brutal. There’s not an uplifting note in it. Its experimental, “fragmented” narrative structure has been lauded and is the film’s best selling-point aside from its acting, but its subject matter, which deals with themes of fate, death, and the cards we’re dealt in life (not unlike the themes in Gus van Sant’s brilliant Elephant) leaves you feeling emotionally hollow, and frankly, exhausted.
The film’s rearranged structural technique leaves no room for its themes to breathe, and no time for the audience to catch its breath. It’s interesting that the marketing around the film draws you in by asking, “How Much Does Life Weigh?” I expected the movie to be spiritual or philosophical in tone, since 21 grams is supposedly the amount of weight we lose at the moment of death. But where the human soul goes is not really a concern of the film at all. The marketing concept is pulled from a voiceover near the end of the script. If the film is spiritual in any way, it’s that your spirit has been extinguished by the end of it.