Anthony Hopkins portrays man with hidden past in 'The Human Stain'
Seattle Times movie critic
Unable to contain the pleasure the music gives him, he grabs Zuckerman and the two lurch across the porch in a giddy dance, swinging each other around and swooping their arms toward the sky; they're like Oscar and Felix doing Fred and Ginger, and they're as happy in that moment as any two people can be.
"The Human Stain" is about an aging man looking back on his life, and on a choice made as a young man that changed its course irrevocably. (Though many published articles about "The Human Stain" will reveal this choice — and of course it will be known to the many who have read the 1998 Philip Roth novel on which the film is based — I'd prefer not to do so here; the movie's nearly half over by the time the secret is unveiled, and the experience is changed if you're waiting for it.)
The Roth novel, sprawling and reflective and full of detailed character notes, would seem a difficult one to bring to the screen, and Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer have greatly simplified it, keeping its essence but reducing secondary characters and sharpening the focus. It's essentially become a love story, set against a backdrop of race and class. Both Coleman and his lover, Faunia, are fleeing their pasts, hiding together in her spartan bed, reducing the world to the tangle of their bodies.
"The Human Stain," despite the delicacy of its performances, occasionally feels heavy-handed; the subject matter has an enormous weight and the movie sometimes staggers under it. (Kidman has a late monologue, with a caged bird, that's beautifully delivered but painfully obvious in its metaphors.) But there are moments, like that porch-lit dance, that find both truth and lyricism, touching on what it means to be alive, and on what we owe to the ghosts of the past.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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