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Academy Award® Nominee
Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel, starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover as new-found lovers in 1865, dealing with their enslaved past and the ghost of her child representing the...  View more >

Starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton...  View more >

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Please Note: Reader Reviews are submitted by the readers of The BigScreen Cinema Guide and represent their own personal opinions regarding this movie, and do not represent the views of The BigScreen Cinema Guide, or any of its associated entities.

[--- See Now! ---]by  
Jan 25, 2000
Beloved (1998)

In her 1988 novel Beloved, Toni Morrison mints the word "rememory." Although Jonathan Demme's film does not make use of the word, its connections are there, reminding us that memories are what we're made of; more insistently, they are what we cannot escape from.

The film stands as a personal history of pain inflicted by slavery and by hatred built against blacks during the Reconstruction era. The product is part romance, part ghost tale, part indictment of American society 100 years after some of its citizens declared themselves free.

The person at the center is Sethe (pronounced SET-ta and played by Oprah Winfrey). We meet her and what's left of her family in 1865, just a few years after their traumatic flight from slavery. Her children include boys Howard and Buglar, their younger sister Denver and, disturbingly, the menacing ghost of another daughter, Beloved. Until the time of her death as an infant, the baby had been called "crawling already?". Now, in the 1870's, Beloved is terrorizing the family, injuring the dog "Here Boy" and causing her brothers to stuff a rucksack full of food and run off.

Almost as unsettling as the flashback in which the baby dies, the scenes of her poltergeist-like violence grip the viewer. Demme directs them with a rapid pace. It's a relief that they end only a few minutes into the film, when Paul D (Danny Glover) enters and puts up an angry resistance. The kitchen has been destroyed (in the book it takes Paul weeks to mend the furniture) but the manifestations are apparently gone. Despite resentment from Denver (Kimberly Elise), Paul D stays and develops a relationship with Sethe. His presence is like a redemption after 18 years of wandering and fleeing and witnessing the degradation of other blacks. Perhaps Paul's romance with Sethe begins through their common ties: they were owned by a brutal Kentuckian known as "schoolteacher"; but the most peaceful time in the film follows the two old friends' falling in love.

It's been ten years since the first stages of the film's production - since the book won Morrison the Pulitzer (later she received the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first African American woman so recognized). As one of the producers, Winfrey no doubt had strong creative control. One of the results is the brilliant casting. First, Winfrey herself sketches Sethe with a character and strength that is almost indestructible. Her role in The Color Purple showed us her canny and solid screen presence, and this film makes us realize the scarcity of her roles since. Winfrey endows Sethe with just the right ways, her stares knowing, her gestures purposeful, her words picked to both assert and guard her spirit. In a scene outside the restaurant where she works, Sethe is flattered that Paul has come to pick her up. Instantly her expression turns to consternation when she suspects Paul will announce he is leaving her, and just as easily she beams when Paul says, "I want you pregnant!" The face of a lesser actress could not accomplish such a range.

As the title character, Thandie Newton delivers a startling performance. From the time she tramps out of a creek, dressed in dark colors and new shoes, and collapses on the bank to sleep, she lends a creepy presence to the story. Beetles engulf her as we hear the rasp of her snore. Later she turns up in front of Sethe's house, propped scarecrow-like -- a turning point. What is not clear is why Sethe does not realize that here is a living wraith, the incarnation of the child that previously haunted the house and their lives, making them a family of outcasts even among blacks. The young woman - she appears as the age she would be in life - croaks out the letters in her name, but it is not until later that Sethe's daughter Denver realizes the stranger's identity. In her portrayal of Beloved, Newton is appropriately clumsy and regressive in speech: she's reminiscent of those who have been aroused from a coma and act much less than their age.

After seeing Danny Glover as Paul D. Garner, it's hard to imagine any other actor in the role. He brings a veteran instinct that telegraphs the story's direction clearly. At times gentle, swaggering, aggressive, disillusioned, Paul D leaves his mark as a man who cares and who accepts the responsibilities he lays out for himself. Because Paul is so straightforward and strong, we are all the more disheartened when the creature from beyond his world mesmerizes him. Is Beloved carrying out a sort of revenge for Paul's ousting her possessive spirit? Among the most riveting patterns in the plot are the scenes in which Paul finds himself repulsed by sleeping in Sethe's room; he moves to a rocking chair to an empty bed in a spare room, to a shed across the back field. It's here that we see the consummation of the second hellish scene to take place in the shed.

Baby Suggs is one of Toni Morrison's most memorable characters. She is the mother of Halle, one of the Sweet Home slaves owned by Mr. Garner. Halle has worked extra to buy his mother and send her north, across the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Morrison is masterful in showing how slaveowners were oblivious to the humanity of their captives. Even though he is one of the more humane owners, Garner is not aware of Baby Suggs' name; he calls her "Jenny Whitlow" from her original sale papers. In the film, Beah Richards achieves the right status of nurturerer and prophet. Grandma Baby, Sethe's mother-in-law and Denver's grandmother, preaches atop a rock in the woods, bringing her listeners wisdom and hope. She is called "holy" in the book, and proved so in the film. "Love your flesh" and "Kiss your hands," she intones, and we see more of the body imagery that spreads throughout the work.

As Denver, Kimberly Elise also shows a variety of moods. Hateful toward Paul D, protective of her reclaimed big sister, finally mature at the end, Denver's story ends happily. In a namesake role - Amy Denver, who delivers Sethe's child beneath the surface of the Ohio (again, water images) - Kessia Randall is perfectly talkative and compassionate. And as Stamp Paid - another of Morrison's wonderful names - Albert Hall plays well as an ex-slave who delivers Sethe to Baby, and who later delivers a revelation to Paul D.

Because Morrison's novel is not a linear narrative, the film resorts to a risky series of flashbacks. These slices of past lives, many of them disconcerting in their depiction of abuse and murder, are shot in grainy and incandescent tones, helping us to distinguish them from the main plotline. Even though some of the scenes resemble bad videotape, the craftsmanship of storytelling has to be admired. The soundtrack is also remarkable, made up of period instruments, voices, and curiously effective sounds of insects and birds.

The film's astonishing content does not quite fill its nearly three hours. Editing down the last quarter of the story would have made for tighter composition. No matter how riveting the story, viewers have time to look at their watches, an indication of a saggy pace.

Why the filmmakers shot the bulk of the film around Philadelphia instead of Cincinnati, I don't know. The city locations grab our eyes, after so much of the story is told around Sethe's farmhouse. Names like "Shillito's", an early Cincinnati department store, show the attention to detail paid by the set designers. We are treated to vistas of the muddy Ohio, the distant sky beclouded by industrial smoke. A hog capital before Chicago, Cincinnati is seen as a typical heartland town. Very appropriate, considering Morrison adapted a story that appeared in the January 29 and 30 editions of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The model for Sethe was Margaret Garner, a 23 year-old who joined fugitive slaves from two farms south of Covington, Kentucky. The real-life Stamp Paid was probably Elijah Kite, an ex-slave who assisted in the Underground Railroad. The Bodwins are given a brief part in the film; their counterpart was Levi Coffin, a Quaker storeowner who was the "president" of the Railroad. Morrison also preserves the number of Margaret's children: Samuel, 5, Thomas, 6, Mary, 3 (the ill-fated Beloved in the book), and Silla, a 3 month-old boy. The Garners' owner was Archibald Gaines, part of the dreaded posse that tracked them down.

Considering how important it is to know one's history, it would be good if every American citizen were to see Beloved. Whereas so many films are useless, Beloved proves itself a useful part of our culture. For those interested in researching their ancestry, it is difficult to find information farther back than a few generations. How infinitely more difficult to discover the identity of relations who were slaves. Beloved is also important as a genealogical study of pain and healing.

[--- Good ---]by  
Jan 25, 2000
Toni Morrison's "Beloved" translates unevenly onto the screen. The harrowing tale of a murdered girl's return to her family is effective in parts, but also confusing and overly long. While Oprah Winfrey as the lead player, and mother of the child, is effective in her own right as Sethe, but she and Danny Glover, as her old friend Paul G. do not manage convincing chemistry....each saying the lines and going through the motions unconvincingly. Kimberly Elise as daughter Denver gives a convincing portrayal of an ignorant black girl who transforms herself when she goes to the city and gets a job. Her change of carriage and expression in this transition is very real and inspiring. Thandie Newton as the returned from the dead Beloved is inspired and wonderfully origional in this unprecedented role. This film, for all its impact, probably is too long and not entertaining enough to gain a record breaking audience. er do

[--- Good ---]by  
Jan 25, 2000
Jonathan Demme has created a wonderful portrayal Toni Morrison's book Beloved. The all-star cast consisting of Oprah Winnfrey, Danney Glover, Thadie Newton, and Kimberly Elise all perfectly play their charatcers, so that after the movie you could see no one else in the role. The movie vividly depicts not only slave life, but the life of freed blacks in the 1800's. After running to Cinncinati, to get away from the slave master in Kentucky, Sethe, played by Oprah Winfrey is rejected even by the black community because she is haunted by her dead baby Beloved. Paul D. her old friend from the plantation befriends her again, and they begin to start a relationship. They work through the hauntings of Beloved. Then movie becomes confusing with the flashbacks, and the haunting works of Beloved. Thadie Newton, playing the older Beloved, appears out of the river covered in bugs, and dirty clothes, but new shoes. Beloved causes a lot of problems for the family, and it is confusing. The movie over all has a great plot, and the casting is perfect for the film. The length of the film is the only downfall. It's almost three hours gives watchers a chance to look at their watches, and wonder when it will be over. Besides the length I thought that it was over all a movie worth watching.

[--- Wait for Rental ---]by  
Jan 25, 2000
The movie Beloved is the big screen adaptation of Toni Morrison’s award winning novel of the same title. While the movie follows the script set forth by the book, the movie tends to gain its own identity. First of all this is not an uplifting movie in any way, it is a cold, unforgiving look into the darkness of slavery from the slaves point of view. It is the story of a murdered baby named, you guessed it, Beloved. At times Domme makes the events seem so real that you almost feel like you’re there. But the thing that turned me off to this gruesome movie is the length. I thought that the movie seemed to drag on at times and was missing the flow that the novel had. To me the movie seemed to lack a sense of completion, so much important detail from Morrison’s novel was left out of the movie. Anybody that read the novel would be asking them selves what happened to certain characters and scenes that I believe would have only helped this movie immensely. The scene with Here Boy near the beginning is a nice touch to an otherwise unexciting movie. Thandie Newton delivers a startling performance as a grown-up Beloved. But the voice she uses to portray the adult Beloved becomes annoying very quickly. Overall I thought that the movie was decent although not overly entertaining. At best I could only recommend it as a rental.

[--- Wait for Rental ---]by  
Jan 25, 2000
An hour too long. Toni Morrison, as a writer, is hard to read. The translation to the screen wasn't bad. Morrison is very sexual. Many people complain of not understanding some of it. Beautifully filmed. Good cast & acting. I wouldn't see it twice....even if they shortened it

Jul 22, 2003
A powerful drama based on the novel by Toni Morrison, one of the best writers around. Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, reunited from \"The Color Purple,\" in a tale about ex-slaves dealing with the difficult life since the Civil War. This movie also introduced Thandie Newton and Kimberly Elise. The film will movie you. After you see the movie, you can read the book.

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