The movie had ended, the credits were rolling and the lights have come up, and yet we sit (my spouse and I), unmoving searching for a meaning from the images we just saw cascade across the screen. And we were not alone; across the crowed theater people were given to pregnant pauses lost in the inner sanctum of their own thoughts, momentarily oblivious to their surroundings. For that moment, that brief self-enlightened moment, heads did not turn, mouths did not utter a syllable, hands did not meet; silence enveloped the room. Even the movie credits were silent as if the movie makers knew that the film would elicit this response from the audience.
Finally, the older women sitting next to us broke the spell when she rose from her seat and asked if could get by us. That shook us from our private thoughts long enough to leave ourselves, but still the spouse and I spoke not a word about the movie and what we felt about it until we were on our way to dinner; we both agreed that this was a great movie, far and away, and leaps and bounds above In the Bedroom (review coming), which we had seen the previous week.
Much heralded in the press, Monsters Ball is not a movie about any one thing, but a statement about the many failures of American society. The issues, some subtle, others not so subtle, collide and blend together in a collage of images and words that are at time difficult to watch and experience. The Death Penalty, obesity, racism, bigotry, sexism, the failures of family, the failures of menboth black and whiteto take care of the women in their lives and the consequences those failure visit upon the families; the struggle of black men to make it in a society that by and large views them as expendable, and the effect that has on the black family unit. All of these themes bombard the mind and make it difficult at times to follow the central plotline of the movie, and perhaps that is what writers and producers intended. And therein lies the massage of Monsters Ball, namely that life is rarely, if ever, black and white, that when humans are involved there are differing shade of gray that make living a challenge for most of us. That most of us, black and white, men and women, snatch little moments of pleasure out of a life time of pain and misery and its those moments that keep us sane.
At times Monsters Ball is slow with seemingly empty scenes that dont covey much, but by the end I came to realize that they had a purpose and conveyed more than I gave them credit for as they passed. The movie is a drama and a suspense thriller, and even during the slow scenes the movie held my attention because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, the calamity to unfold. The only disappointing, or perhaps not so disappointing aspect of the movie was the ending which left me and my spouse almost breathless for more; it trailed off with shot of the black, but star-lit sky, and with the future of the principles (Hank & Leticia) uncertain. But in retrospect even this aspect of the movie mirrored real life; most of our lives are shrouded in uncertainty. No one has a roadmap for their lives; September 11th confirmed that in stark naked detail.
Monsters Ball is told mostly through the eyes of the Grotowskies, three generations of White men living under the same roof in rural modern day Georgia. Buck (Peter Boyle), the father, is an ex-soldier, and an ex-corrections officer, and is now slowly dieing from cancer. He is the poster child for the White Supremacist, and makes no apologies for same. He is a throw back to an era when White men acted like kings and measured their manhood and respect by how many women they could subjugate, how well their sons stood up to their verbal and physical abuse and came back for more, and how many n_ggers kowtowed before them. Its no surprise then that Bucks wife committed suicide.
Hank (Billy Bob Thornton), Bucks son, also lost his wife to suicide, by following in fathers sullied foot prints. Out of sense of twisted duty to his father and his family Hank works at the local state penitentiary like his father before him as the supervisor of the Death-Row detail. He acts like a bigot and racist, but I got the sense that his heart wasnt in it. I got the feeling that he really didnt want to be what he was, but that he was trappedonce againby his sense of duty and obligation to his father.
The final member of the Grotowski clan is Sonny (Heath Ledger), Hank's son, and the newest member of the clan to join the family business. Sonny is a modern Southern man, he is sensitive, doesnt hate women and Black people like his grandfather, and will not pretend he does to gain his grandfathers respect like his father. He doesnt seem to fit into their world, and finds little joy in life.
Leticia Musgrove (Halle Barry) is Hanks savior, his angel sent from above by God to save his wretched soul from damnation. She is young, beautiful, needy and Black, none of which repels Hank; in fact it attracts him. Not too long after they meet she give herself to him in the most wanton of ways and Hank responds in kind; they feed off of one another. They are no longer a Black woman and a White man, but two people who need one another to survive the horrible stench of life that threatens to choke them both to death.
Both Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Barry turn is stellar performances worth of Oscar gold. Barrys performance is raw, bare, unadorned, and entirely believable. I was attracted to her character like a moth to a flame, I wanted to help her, I wanted to save her, and so I can see why Hank would want to ride to her rescue.
More of the film I do not want to give away, so I will say no more about the plot. As for the meaning of the film, I am still digesting it in my mind, turning it over, analyzing it, and dissecting it. Monsters Ball will represent different things to different people each according to his or her standing in our American community. Its a movie for our time, one which rings a clarion bell for all of us to hear.
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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