Monday Movie: Beloved
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
Being as prolific a filmmaker as he is, Jonathan Demme has directed more than a few movies that have largely faded from our collective memory. Some of those probably deserve such a fate, like his later Neil Young collaborations that have been a study in diminishing returns. Others are more respectable failures, like The Truth About Charlie, his new-wave inspired dark comedy remake of Charade. But by far the most unfairly misunderstood and underappreciated of the lot is 1998’s Beloved, based on the Toni Morrison novel and starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover and a then largely unknown Thandie Newton. Winfrey’s Sethe plays a woman who killed one of her own children to keep her out of the hands of slavers. Years later, having fled to freedom in Ohio, she is visited by a strange young girl who turns out to be her dead daughter reincarnated. Audiences may have been expecting a Color Purple redux, given the cast, and Beloved does have the weight of a social issue drama at times. Yet viewers were perhaps not prepared to take their historical awareness medicine alongside a three-hour long, magical realist ghost story. There’s grandeur to spare in Beloved, but not of the middlebrow, capital-S Serious variety. Demme’s camera soars and flits like a spirit in search of a host to possess. The whole thing is feverish and baroque with performances to match. Maybe it can be a bit much to handle. That doesn’t make it a failure, though; that’s what makes it such a nourishing rediscovery.