". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Last night Caitlin and I watched Premonition. It was released in 2007 and starred Sandra Bullock. It is of the "psychological thriller" genre, revolving around a housewife who, upon her husband's death in an automobile accident, finds herself caught in an apparent time loop in which she is randomly bouncing around among the days immediately preceding and following her husband's death, but in no particular order. One day she wakes up and her husband is alive and eating breakfast in the kitchen. The next day, she stumbles down the stairs to find that once again he's dead and the living room is filled with mourners. She repeatedly finds herself bumping up against the effects of actions that she has apparently taken but can't remember (for example, discovering a prescription bottle from a psychiatrist that she visited but has no memory of). The result is intriguing, sort of a combination of Groundhog Day and Alfred Hitchcock, and I was quickly drawn in to trying to figure out what was going on and how it would all end.

It was interesting, then, to discover that the reviews of the movie upon its release were pretty poor. Not only was Bullock's performance criticized for being stiff and wooden (she was playing a woman who was in shock following her husband's death, for Pete's sake), but the movie was criticized for being illogical and hard to follow. I would agree that it is confusing. But I think the reviewers that criticize this aspect of it are missing the point. I took the story as a whole to be an allegory of the mind following a life-shattering event. Have you ever had something happen in your life that was so enormous and so pivotal that it seemed to make everything come to an immediate halt? Time seems to stop. And then as you try to come to terms with the event, you find yourself going back in time, reliving not only the event but the days leading up to it. You ask yourself whether you saw this thing coming and whether there is anything you could have done to prevent or change it. You replay things in your mind and pick up on details you hadn't noticed before. You remember and long for the days long before the event, when everything seemed to be normal. And then you find yourself jumping ahead in time, imagining what your life is going to be post-event: wondering how things are going to change and how you're going to manage under the new reality. Sometimes you wonder if you're living a dream--or a nightmare. This is very much how this movie struck me, and as a result, it rang completely true. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.

One of the things most criticized in the reviews I read was the movie's ending. I don't want to spoil things for anyone who has not seen it, but I think the ending was stunning. For the entire story we see Sandra Bullock as the wife at various times before and after her husband's death. She is like a detective trying to piece together a puzzle, wondering if she might even be able to do something to prevent the terrible thing from taking place. When she discovers that on the day of his accident her husband was driving to meet a woman with whom he had decided to have an affair, she wonders if her husband--and her marriage--are worth saving. She visits a priest who tells her every day is a miracle and she needs to fight for the things she cares about. But it seems a moot point because the time warp she is stuck in won't allow her to wake up on the actual day of her husband's death. Finally, though, the needle skips out of the groove in which it has been stuck and she finds herself reliving the events of THAT day. Rushing to the scene of her husband's accident, she is metaphorically ready to face the truth, whatever that truth is, and move on with her life, wherever it may take her.  

We think of life as a linear thing. And it is. There's a beginning, a middle and an end. But for our brains it's not always that simple. We have a way of replaying things in our minds, tormenting ourselves with the "what if's," "maybe's," and "if only's," wondering whether if we look at a thing from this perspective or that one it will somehow look different. It's something that we need to do, I think, to process great grief or shock or change. But there comes a time when we need to jump off the hamster wheel and move on. We can run on that wheel all we want; it's not going to change the facts. Once we jump off, we are ready to quit reliving the past and start planning and hoping for the future.

I just wish it weren't so hard to make that leap.


Elisabeth said...

It's good to see a positive review of this movie. My sister and I watched it around the time it was released on DVD and neither of us cared much for it. I think it wasn't so much the idea of the plot as the plot itself that bothered us. We both felt there were a lot of gaping holes in the storyline. Maybe I ought to try watching it again sometime.

Leah said...

I think this must often happen to parents whose children leave the faith. Sigh.

Susan said...

Gary loves Sandra Bullock, so we got the movie. After about half an hour, he couldn't take it anymore. He left but I didn't want to stop mid-story. I still have mixed feelings about it. But what you explained (especially in the second paragraph) certainly describes what it was that made me keep watching and (even years later) keep wondering.