The grief of surviving
(Ian Holm and Sarah Polley in The Sweet Hereafter)
The film which will conclude this term’s series of Canadian Movie Nights is a 1997 bleak, melancholy drama by Armenian-Canadian director, Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter. Winner of eight Genie awards in Canada and nominated for two awards at the 1998 Academy Awards in Hollywood, the film was a critical success, bringing the independent filmmaker international acclaim.
Told in a unique, unusual way, the film, based on the novel by Russell Banks, focuses on a small wintry mountain community whose life is turned upside down by a school bus accident which takes the lives of many of the town’s children. Later a lawyer comes to town hoping to capitalize on their families' grief. Trying to find someone to blame for what seemed a simple and unavoidable accident, he convinces many of the families to join his suit. As a result, the community is paralyzed by its anger and cannot let go – except for one young girl, left in a wheelchair after the accident, who finds the courage to lead the way to the sweet hereafter.
Although the plot might make you think of one of those Grisham films in which lawyers help battle injustice, don’t expect a victory at the end. The parents who have lost their children can never get them back; the surviving school bus driver must live forever with what happened; lawsuits will open old wounds and reveal secrets of the past. The loss will remain a loss.
Egoyan’s film is not about lawyers, lawsuits or revenge. It is not about the tragedy of dying, but about the grief of those who have survived. It is about how to carry on living after hope and meaning have gone.
Note: The film is going to be screened as part of Canadian Movie Nights on April 28, 2011, at 5.45 p.m. in Room G103. It is in English (possibly with English subtitles).