Evan Rachel Wood in The Life Before Her Eyes
Evan Rachel Wood in The Life Before Her Eyes 

In Vadim Perelman’s The Life Before Her Eyes, Evan Rachel Wood and Uma Thurman both play the same woman, but at different points in life. Wood is the rebellious 17-year-old Diana and Thurman is the adult, now a mother with a difficult little girl of her own. Besides years, separating the two is a Columbine-like high school shooting where Diana and her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) are forced by the killer to choose which one of them will die.

Though the shooting weighs heavily on every minute of the film, this isn’t a thriller. Instead, the story flashes back and forth between past and future. First there is Wood, impatiently waiting for her life to get started in the days leading up to the shooting and then there is Thurman, struggling with the consequences of what really happened that day and slowly unraveling as the 15th anniversary draws near.

It’s an interesting set-up that unfortunately is only partly successful. Like Perelman’s previous film The House of Sand and Fog, there’s a precious, specimen-under-glass quality that detracts from the emotion you’d hope for. The film asks to be intellectualized rather than felt.

That’s not to say there aren’t some powerful moments. There are. The school shooting that is the turning point in the drama is effective and harrowing. The cast is also very good. Evan Rachel Wood especially does some of her better work as the young girl who bristles under the authority that parents and school still hold over her and who is anxious for her life to really begin. While Wood looks ahead, Thurman looks back, questioning the choices she’s made along the way. She’s got a more difficult role as a woman who seems to be losing hold on reality, but she does a nice job.

Besides Wood, the other high points are the production design and the beautiful cinematography that lend the film a hazy/dreamy quality. The artificiality of it is off-putting at first, but it befits the remembered pasts in which the film traffics.

Less effective is the clockwork precision of the film. Filled with symbols and parallels and pregnant with meaning, it’s laid out like a puzzle that’s a little too precise and preordained. Like a piece of wax fruit, it’s pretty but frustratingly juiceless.

Nevertheless, The Life Before Her Eyes gets just enough right that it’s still recommended, particularly for fans of Evan Rachel Wood. It’s a film about actions and consequences; about how even small acts can ripple forward and cloud an otherwise promising future. It’s about choices and regrets. Had it been a little more spontaneous and emotional, it could’ve been truly satisfying instead of only marginally so.

The Life Before Her Eyes. USA 2008. Directed by Vadim Perelman. Written by Emil Stern from the book by Laura Kasischke. Cinematography by Pawel Edelman. Music score composed by James Horner. Starring Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri and Gabrielle Brennan. 1 hour 30 minutes. Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use. 3 stars (out of 5)

20 Responses to “Review: The Life Before Her Eyes (2008) ***”

  1. Most interesting review Craig, and I do agree with your position on the overtly scrutinizing HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG.

  2. I am glad you say it is not a complete disaster, and it is not like I would ever miss an Evan Rachel Wood film anyway. Thanks for the review Craig, and the pic as well ;)

  3. I thought HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG was, above all, f’ing ridiculous, that sort of plotting wouldn’t have cut the mustard in a traditional thriller, but since it has some sort of “meaning” we’re supposed to forgive it. Not I.

    I am interested in this though. Perelman certainly showed talent.

  4. Chuck, if you hated Fog, I’m thinking you’re not going to like this one either. I could be very wrong about that, I’m just saying.

  5. In addition to being artistically flawed, THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG must surely rank as one of the most unremitingly depressing films ever made, but that was the order of business with the novel too. A real downer, that will never be a repeat view for me.

  6. Yeah, I think HoSaF’s biggest problem was that it was distanced, but that it was manipulative, there was a real sense that it was laying the dramatic situation out there and then asking the audience, “See? This is what happens!” like a not-funny Arrested Development prank.

  7. Wow, I never expected a school shooting to factor into this. Guess I missed that in the promos. Well I’m glad this isn’t a five-star movie because I couldn’t possibly fit it in, anyway. Nice to hear the visuals are as impressive as the trailer, though.

  8. Sorry about that Daniel. I debated whether to be less specific in the review, but I thought it was pretty clear from the trailer. Plus it’s a fact that’s introduced pretty early in the film.

  9. No worries – I likely avoided more of the trailer than I realized anyway, and like you say it doesn’t sound like the shooting is in fact the shocking finale.

  10. What’s odd is that I just read that the director thinks people will like the movie more if they know the ending. I don’t know if he’s right, but you won’t hear what it is at LiC.

    Either way, it’s being spoiled all over so if anyone has any interest in seeing this movie, keep your eyes closed.

  11. I bet I can figure it out now.

  12. Hopefully not based on my review. I tried to avoid even mentioning there was any reason to suspect their might be a twist because that’s how I went into it myself. If you know there’s a twist, you spend the whole movie just trying to figure it out.

  13. what was the meaning of the end of the movie

  14. I’m not exactly sure what you mean Barbara and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie now but my interpretation of the ending is that ***Spoiler*** Evan Rachel Wood was shot during the school shooting and all of the stuff with Uma Thurman was just her imagined life as she lay dying ***End Spoiler*** Does that answer your question?

    Thanks for stopping by.

  15. whats the ending!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. p.s. i just cant figure it out.

    like if she died in the bathroom why is she still alive as uma……………….. and how does she have a kid?!?!??!?!

  17. Hi Lissa, thanks for stopping by.

    I’m no expert on the movie, but as I said above: my opinion is that all the parts with Uma happen in Evan Rachel Wood’s imagination as she lays dying on the bathroom floor.

    Does that make sense? It’s a controversial ending and made a lot of people mad, but I kind of liked it.

  18. I give this film one star because I saw too many people searching for an explanation on the internet. Obviously, it was poorly directed if so many viewers were confused as to meaning. In truth, even AFTER reading explanations, I could not piece together this film. This is definitely a film to forget, in spite of fine acting performances.

  19. I have to say Jack, I’ve never found the ending confusing at all, but hey if it didn’t work for you, it didn’t work.

  20. This movie stinks

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