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"BELOVED"
(1998) (Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Minor Heavy Moderate Heavy Moderate
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Minor None Moderate None Minor
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Extreme Minor Heavy Moderate Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A former slave must come to terms with her new freedom as well as her horrific past that's come back to haunt her in an unusual way.
PLOT:
Having escaped to the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio years earlier, Sethe (OPRAH WINFREY), a former slave, has raised her three young children alone in a house haunted by a long dead daughter. When her two older boys finally can't take it anymore, they flee from the house in terror, leaving Sethe and her daughter, Denver (KIMBERLY ELISE), alone there.

Eight years later in 1873, amid continual poltergeist-like activity, things begin to look better when Paul D. (DANNY GLOVER) suddenly appears on Sethe's doorstep. A former fellow slave from their previous home, and reportedly on the move for the past eighteen years, Paul D is a welcome sight to Sethe. He soon moves in, and after one last violent haunting, the poltergeist disappears for good.

Peaceful bliss doesn't last for long, however, as one day upon returning home, the happy family encounters Beloved (THANDIE NEWTON), an odd and near feral-like young woman with a horribly raspy and strained voice that accompanies her awkward, jerky mannerisms. Sethe immediately takes in this poor girl, who soon becomes part of their family, although Paul D. questions her past and arrival at their home, while Denver alternates between loving this girl as a sister and being jealous over her mother's attention to her.

As Beloved asks questions about Sethe's past, we see flashbacks to her life as a slave, her trek of freedom toward Ohio, and her life once there, including interacting with Baby Suggs (BEAH RICHARDS), an elderly woman seen as the community's sage. Beloved's bizarre behavior and still unexplained appearance, however, soon dredge up long buried secrets from Sethe's past that have now come back to haunt her in ways neither she nor anyone else could ever have imagined.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Older teens might be the only likely audience among kids, but even they might find the quaint settings, slow pace, and near three hour length as something they'd rather avoid.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For violent images, sexuality and nudity.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • OPRAH WINFREY plays a former slave and loving mother haunted by her past, specifically her murdering her own child (done trying to keep her children away from slave holders). Despite (and because of) everything that's happened to her, she remains steadfast against leaving her home or giving up Beloved the second time around.
  • DANNY GLOVER plays an old friend of Sethe's who moves in with her and provides for the family. The two have sex (he also has sex with Beloved, but only due to some sort of spell she puts on him), and he hits the road once he learns of Sethe's past.
  • KIMBERLY ELISE plays Sethe's daughter who's afraid to leave their property and is obviously psychologically damaged from that as well as having to live with supernatural occurrences for so long.
  • THANDIE NEWTON plays the mysterious young woman who appears at the family's home and begins to dredge up long buried secrets. Near feral-like in appearance and behavior, and occasionally threatening in a supernatural way, she also "forces" Paul D. to have sex with her.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
    For those who don't believe in the saying that your past may come back to haunt you, one need look no further than "Beloved." Putting a literal spin on that old adage, this lovingly mounted adaption of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name features a compelling story, superb direction, and outstanding performances.

    Unfortunately, it's also nearly three hours long, and while that isn't a horrible cinematic sin, it may just elicit a great deal of seat squirming in some and great impatience in others who aren't swept up in the film's powerfully creepy, but methodically slow pace.

    That said, while the film obviously isn't busting at the seams with enough content to justify its length, conversely it isn't too boring, although some trimming here and there would have effectively shortened its length without sacrificing any material.

    Nonetheless, what makes the film work so well is that slow and seemingly meandering way in which the story unfolds. Despite an early scene showing poltergeist activity, the film doesn't really get creepy until it's been given time to fester and slowly come to a boil with ever more facts gradually coming into sight. As such, the more the story is revisited and explored in hindsight, the more powerful it becomes.

    Of course, much of that is due to Morrison's novel that screenwriters Richard LaGravenese ("The Fisher King," "The Bridges of Madison County") and Adam Brooks ("Practical Magic," "French Kiss") and newcomer Akosua Busia have reportedly faithfully adapted.

    Even so, it's director Jonathon Demme's wonderful touch along with the central quartet of performers that really allow the film to shine. As dissimilar as Demme's last film "Philadelphia" was to his earlier, Oscar winning feature, "The Silence of the Lambs," this one is as equally different from those. Although his use of sepia flavored flashbacks may be used a bit too much (in intensity), the rest of the film -- disregarding the length -- is nearly flawless.

    The same holds true for the stellar performance from Oprah Winfrey. As far from her powerful, glamorous and confidant TV talk show personality as it gets, Winfrey -- who scored on Oscar nomination for her work in "The Color of Purple" -- so perfectly fits into her role that one would nearly guess it was written specifically for her. Another Oscar nomination should be headed her way for this excellent and moving portrayal.

    Supporting performances are as equally strong. Thandie Newton ("Flirting," "Jefferson in Paris") is particularly amazing as the title character. Although her initial behavior and appearance may be disturbing and somewhat confusing -- one initially imagines she suffers from some previous head injury or similar trauma -- once her identity and past is revealed everything makes sense, and only gets and feels that much creepier. Perfectly playing the part, Newton should also get an Oscar nod for her performance.

    Making viewers forgot what's become his near caricature role from the "Lethal Weapon" movies, Danny Glover ("Places in the Heart") delivers a fine performance as Sethe's old friend, while Kimberly Elise ("Set It Off") is also quite good as the young and troubled Denver.

    Beyond the film's strong and multifaceted, but often ambiguous symbolism, the biggest complaint people will have regarding the movie is its near three-hour length. Although the picture's purposefully slow pace seems to work -- for the most part -- in its favor, at times it nears being frustratingly slow.

    While similarly lengthy films such as "Titanic," "Saving Private Ryan" and even the much longer "Gone With The Wind" can get away with their duration due to the inclusion of action and/or otherwise faster paced scenes, "Beloved" would really drag if not for the supernatural undertones running throughout most of it. A little judicious editing clearly would have made the film easier to sit through, and could have been done without sacrificing any important scenes, mood, or overall atmosphere.

    That said, the film is still amazing to behold. While its revelatory "twist" most likely won't come as much of a surprise to many viewers, the horror of that disclosure still manages to yield a powerfully dramatic punch. That pretty much applies to the picture as a whole, and we imagine it will be well represented in next year's Oscar nominations. We give "Beloved" an 8.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Although it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, here's a quick summary of its content. Viewers unfamiliar with the original novel may be surprised by the supernatural material present in the film. As such, a great deal of haunting/poltergeist activity occurs in the beginning, and the presence of Beloved, along with her appearance, sounds, and behavior, and the eventual discovery of what she really is (a spooky physical manifestation of a murdered child), may be unsettling or downright scary to some viewers.

    Violence, while brief, does show a whipping, hangings, a burning man who's shot, as well as a woman who's just cut her child's throat with a saw (resulting in a very bloody scene). Full frontal female nudity occurs (along with male rear nudity), we see a sexual encounter with movement and sounds, along with other implied sex between an unmarried couple.

    Finally, the film's thematic elements are quite heavy, and range from the issues of slavery and post-slavery life, as well as the notion of one's past coming back to haunt them. Beyond that, and relatively sparse profanity (that does include 4 uses of "G-damn" for those concerned with that) the rest of the film contains little or no major objectionable material. Even so, you may wish to more closely examine the content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for you or anyone in your home.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • Paul D. pours and drinks something from a bottle that may be alcoholic, but it's never noted either way.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • We see an injured dog with blood on its tongue and its eyeball hanging from its socket (that Sethe picks up and puts back into its proper place).
  • We see a brief flashback where both Sethe and Paul D. have blood on their face.
  • Large and multiple scars are noted on both Paul D. and Sethe's backs.
  • We see Sethe's urine stream as she squats down to relieve herself, and later we see her water break (when she's pregnant) while in a canoe.
  • Beloved throws up and then more substantial drool runs from her mouth.
  • In a flashback we see Sethe's very bloody feet.
  • In a flashback, Sethe takes her kids into a shed (to keep them away from white men she believes will take them back to servitude) where we then hear horrible sounds from inside. The door is opened and we see Sethe wildly swinging her infant and holding another dead and extremely bloody child. We then see her two boys apparently dead on the ground with some blood behind them (they do survive), as well as the saw Sethe used to cut the dead child's throat. She and the child are very bloody.
  • Beloved violently scratches at her own throat, drawing a little bit of blood.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Obviously the people mistreating the slaves have both, but beyond the historical knowledge of that and two brief scenes involving a whipping and hanging (and the scene listed next), little of it's directly seen.
  • As Sethe tells a horrific story about men stealing her milk, we see glimpses of men licking at her breasts and milk squirting out from one of them.
  • Sethe has both for her "unique" solution to prevent men from taking her and her kids back to servitude -- she kills one and attempts to do the same to the others but is stopped.
  • Some may see Paul D. hitting the road upon learning of the above as having some of both.
  • Denver occasionally has some of both toward nearly everyone in her life (due to psychological trauma of growing up within a sheltered -- and haunted -- life and home).
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • We see some poltergeist activity where a dog is spinning around the room (and slams into a wall, severely injuring it -- an eye pops from its socket), as well as other such activity (a cake slides across a table, a door flings itself open, etc...) and the kids present are frightened.
  • Years later, Paul D. enters the house and is greeted by a red glowing light throughout the room, as well as visions of men dead on the ground and of a mysterious lady.
  • We briefly see an image of a man completely engulfed in flames who is then shot.
  • Occasionally more ghostly sounds emanate from somewhere in the house.
  • Another poltergeist haunting takes place and Sethe and Paul D. are nearly hit by a small table sent flying in their direction, others objects are broken, and Paul D. is finally pinned to the wall by a large table.
  • Beloved's odd and often spooky behavior, appearance, and the raspy sound of her voice and breathing may be unsettling or downright scary to some viewers, especially younger kids (and particularly once the supernatural connotations of her presence -- that she's the long dead and previously murdered daughter now grown up -- are fully noted).
  • We see some brief flashback scenes of people being hanged -- including Sethe's mother that the little girl must watch (but we don't see this one through to its completion).
  • In a flashback, Sethe takes her kids into a shed (to keep them away from white men she believes will take them back to servitude) where we then hear horrible sounds from inside. The door is opened and we see Sethe wildly swinging her infant and holding another dead and extremely bloody child. We then see her two boys apparently dead on the ground with some blood behind them (they do survive), as well as the saw Sethe used to cut the dead child's throat. She and the child are very bloody.
  • Sethe's eventual but prolonged mental breakdown due to Beloved' tantrums and other behavior may also be upsetting to some viewers.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Pistol/Rifle: Used or carried by men in a few scenes. Also see "Violence" for other details.
  • Handsaw: Used by Sethe to kill one of her children and attempt the same on the others.
  • Whip: Briefly used to "discipline" Sethe.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Nigger" (said once by a white woman who helps Sethe in a flashback).
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • A moderate amount of spooky music accompanies the ghostly scenes, and an overall ominous tone plays throughout other parts of the film.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • 1 damn and 4 uses of "G-damn," 2 of "Jesus," and 1 use each of "Good God," "Oh Lord," "My Jesus," "Oh my Jesus" and "God Almighty" as exclamations (with many other similar phrases apparently used directly to address God or Jesus and not as exclamations).
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Sethe shows some cleavage in an outfit she wears.
  • As Sethe tells a horrific story about men stealing her milk, we see glimpses of men licking at her bare breasts and milk squirting out from one of them.
  • After seeing Sethe's scars on her back and hearing of white men "stealing her milk," Paul D. puts his arms around her for comfort, and then places his hands on her clothed breasts (still apparently to comfort her).
  • Although we don't see anything most of the time, it's implied that Sethe and Paul D. have sex after he moves in with her (they're not married).
  • We see Sethe's bare breasts as she prepares to, and then does, nurse her baby.
  • We see Paul D.'s bare butt as he stands up nude out of a wash tub and then hugs Sethe.
  • Denver and Beloved spot a pair of turtles mating.
  • We see Sethe and Paul D. moving about in bed as they have sex, but there's nothing explicit and no nudity.
  • After putting some sort of spell on Paul D., Beloved approaches him, pulls up her dress (displaying female full frontal nudity) and repeatedly says, "I want you to touch me on my inside part and call my name." She then gets in bed with him, he tries to resist, but she pulls him on top of her and they have sex (with some movement and him loudly repeating her name). She's later pregnant from this encounter.
  • We see Beloved's bare butt and then several views of full frontal nudity as she stands completely naked (and rather pregnant) in the doorway.
  • SMOKING
  • We see a man in town giving away cigars, a woman smokes a pipe, and we later see people on the street smoking.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • We see some brief flashback scenes of people being hanged -- including Sethe's mother that the little girl must watch (but we don't see this one through to its completion).
  • Sethe must contend with her husband's death, and she eventually tells Denver (who believed him still be alive) that her father will never appear.
  • Obviously the whole element of Sethe killing a child (and attempting to kill the others), as well as the haunting and later appearance of Beloved, represent and cause a lot of family problems and tension (her two boys run away, the family obviously becomes dysfunctional, etc...).
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • That the past will often come back to haunt you (albeit probably not like this).
  • Why Sethe was trying to kill her kids and did kill one (to "save" them from the white men she believed would take them back to servitude).
  • Slavery and the life for African Americans after slavery ended.
  • What Beloved symbolizes (Sethe's past, slavery, etc...).
  • VIOLENCE
  • A ghost flings a dog around a room and into a wall, injuring the dog and dislodging its eye from its socket.
  • We briefly see an image of a man completely engulfed in flames who is then shot.
  • We see a brief flashback to a scene where Sethe is being whipped on the ground.
  • Another poltergeist haunting takes place and Sethe and Paul D. are nearly hit by a small table sent flying in their direction, others objects are broken, and Paul D. is finally pinned to the wall by a large table.
  • We see some brief flashback scenes of people being hanged -- including Sethe's mother that the little girl must watch (but we don't see this one through to its completion).
  • In a flashback, Sethe takes her kids into a shed (to keep them away from white men she believes will take them back to servitude) where we then hear horrible sounds from inside. The door is opened and we see Sethe wildly swinging her infant and holding another dead and extremely bloody child. We then see her two boys apparently dead on the ground with some blood behind them (they do survive), as well as the saw Sethe used to cut the dead child's throat. She and the child are very bloody.
  • Beloved goes crazy and knocks things over and breaks other items in their home.
  • Sethe goes rushing at a white man with an ice pick, but is stopped before she gets to him.



  • Reviewed October 16, 1998

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