The Life Before Her Eyes

Original Title:
In Bloom

Vadim Perelman

“But it’s too late to say you’re sorry.
How would I know, Why should I care?
Please don’t bother trying to find her,
She’s not there.”
- “She’s Not There,” (The Zombies)

In just one of the recurring artistic references that echo continuously during the follow-up feature from House of Sand and Fog director Vadim Perelman, the melody and refrain of the Zombies hit “She’s Not There” float throughout this tragic tale from screenwriter Emil Stern’s adaptation of the Laura Kasischke novel. Similar to the way that William Blake’s “Nurse’s Song” from his Songs of Innocence collection is used in a key moment, “She’s Not There” has a subtle effect on our main character that rivals the way she jumps when she hears the sound of gunfire on the family room television.

Using time like a revolving door, the film’s parallel narratives surround the beautiful blonde Hillview High School student (played by the talented Evan Rachel Wood) happily laughing and chatting away with her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) as they question when their lives will start. Ironically their wish to have something happen in their lives takes place just moments before a young, troubled boy armed with a gun enters their school and leaves an eerily quiet, bloody massacre in his wake before cornering the young women in the lavatory and telling them that only one will live.

Quickly we cut to the fifteenth anniversary of the event as the now married mother Diana (Uma Thurman) tries to cope with intense survivor’s guilt as she brings her precocious, rebellious daughter to Catholic school and goes to work as an art teacher analyzing the usage of flowers and symbolism in paintings in a way that seems to mirror her professor husband’s ethical lectures on conscience and morality.

Although she frequently wears floral attire and the same clanging bracelets she favored in her youth, there appears to be several changes from this now perfection seeking, restless and mentally exhausted Diana to her more wild and careless youth as a promiscuous, pot smoking teenager. In the film's extensive flashbacks, the younger frequently troublemaking Diana served as a stark contrast to her church going, prim best friend Maureen and the girls who shared a close bond that felt more like sisterhood jokingly called each other “the virgin and the whore.”

Visually stunning with clever effects utilized throughout in the way that both narratives seem to play off of one another which heighten the viewer’s interest after a devastating beginning sets the overwhelmingly bleak tone (which seems especially ill-timed given more recent school violence on the college level as well), Perelman’s film boasts excellent performances by its leads especially in the form of Amurri, who is the daughter of Susan Sarandon and Franco Amurri.

While initially it’s hard to step back from the shockingly tragic events unfolding onscreen that culminate into a surprising twist ending that had some audience members debating all the way to their cars, once the symbolism gets overtly preachy near the film’s conclusion which prompted some critics to bash the film as a right-wing statement movie and time passes, the filmmakers’ delicate anti-feminist subtext becomes far more apparent. Is it a female punishment film disguised as something quite close to a ghost story? I hesitate to say more as I want to avoid spoilers and further review reading (most notably John Anderson’s spoiler heavy one in Variety) will no doubt answer any lurking questions curious viewers may have.

A few less heavy-handed symbolic references near the end of the film may have decreased some of the backlash and it’s a tough film to recommend given not only the subject matter but also some of the slightly propagandist messages laced throughout, however it’s visually imaginative and fans of the actors will surely find the work of interest, even if the end result makes Life a large sophomore slump for Perelman after his critical smash House of Sand and Fog.