21 GRAMS tells the story of two men and one woman, whose lives become intertwined when one of the men accidentally kills the woman’s family and the other man gets the heart of the woman’s husband transplanted into his body. The interesting Christian and moral elements in 21 GRAMS are undermined by ambiguous humanist elements and plenty of strong foul language, sex, nudity, violence, and drug use.
(HH, CC, B, AbAb, LLL, VVV, SSS, NN, AA, DD, MM) Undeveloped humanist worldview ultimately dominates, where human beings and Fate finally seem to determine the outcome of things, but movie also contains strong Christian content and implies that sinful human beings make their own personal living hell, though one main character loses his faith and rebels against his pastor’s teachings, which is not wholly resolved; about 45 obscenities including many “f” words; six strong profanities, 12 light profanities, and dying man vomits several times; strong intense violence with some blood includes implied heart transplant surgery as patient is prepped, implied traffic accident kills one man and two little girls, man kidnaps other man at the point of a gun, man fires gun into ground near other man, scuffles, woman hits man with lamp, man steps on glass, implied suicide, attempted suicide, and shots of bloody wounds; depicted adultery, fornication, and porn scene; shots of upper female nudity, upper male nudity, and rear nudity; lots of alcohol use; smoking, drug sale shown, cocaine use, and woman takes two pills of illegal street drug to get high and numb her pain; and, lying, revenge rebuked, woman tries to cover up accident, and man illegally purchases gun.
21 GRAMS stars Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Naomi Watts in an intense drama about guilt and revenge.
Penn plays Paul, a college professor who gets a heart transplant after an ex-con named Jack (played by Del Toro), who has become born again, accidentally runs over and kills a man and his two young daughters with his new truck. Paul, no longer in love with his wife, Mary, who has returned to help him through his operation and recovery, secretly investigates the identity of his donor. Without revealing his identity, he begins to pursue the donor’s pretty widow, Cristina (played by Watts), who has been hit hard by her tragedy and has returned to the party-hard-with-drugs lifestyle before her marriage.
Meanwhile, the accident shatters Jack’s Christian faith and his Christian walk. Though he willingly goes to prison for the hit and run, his wife hires a lawyer to get him released early, and Jack vehemently argues with his former pastor about God’s alleged grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Jack clearly cannot overcome the guilt he feels for the accident, but he also can’t bring himself to return faithfully to God as if everything is forgiven. Later, Cristina tells Paul that one of the girls might have been saved if Jack had stopped and gotten an ambulance right away. Thus, the dialogue in the movie suggests that Jack may be right about his guilt, but the movie also shows viewers that there was a young man immediately on the scene of the accident, so, even if Jack had stayed to help, both girls probably would still be dead.
The story of these characters comes to a head when Paul and Cristina begin an affair, and Cristina asks Paul to help her hunt down Jack and kill him.
The acting is very good in this movie, especially from the three leads and Melissa Leo as Jack’s wife, but the photography presents a grainy, harshly lit, depressing, and claustrophobic image throughout which, although it adds to the story’s intense dramatic realism, heightens the ugliness of the human body and the ugliness of the characters and their situations. Thus, even though Jack’s story is filled with both positive and negative references to Jesus and Christianity, the movie ultimately presents a misanthropic attitude that fails to honor either God or God’s Creation.
Even so, however, 21 GRAMS also shows how emotions can build upon each other to produce the same problem that started the emotional roller coaster in the first place. It shows three different lives coming together through one painful accident and tells what happens if you can’t forgive and try to hold onto your pain, grief, bitterness, sadness, anger, revenge, and guilt. Thus, the characters come together in a moment of vengeance, but the combination of all these intense emotions leads to just another tragedy. There are two brief scenes near the end, however, that shows that, once the survivors do let go of these emotions, including guilt, they can step back onto the path that leads to forgiveness and healing.
The character arc of Jack is important to note. Although Jack talks the Christian talk and walks the walk, when the fire comes, he begins to point his finger at God and decides that he can never be forgiven for what has happened when he killed the three people in the traffic accident. Because of his guilt and rebellion against God, his walk and talk turn bitter until the resolution of the three stories in the movie. Only one thing never changes with his character, however – the presence of his Pastor in his life and in his face speaking the truth of God to him. Despite this, Jack remains separated from God and from his family until the end.
Thus, it isn’t really Jack’s pastor or God who brings Jack back to his family, but fate, circumstance, and the actions of Paul and Cristina. Ultimately, therefore, it is the human beings in the story and Fate that determine the outcome of things. This humanist worldview is matched by plenty of strong foul language, sex, nudity, violence, and drug use.
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David Linde and James Schamus
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SUMMARY: 21 GRAMS tells the story of two men and one woman, whose lives become intertwined when one of the men accidentally kills the woman’s family and the other man gets the heart of the woman’s husband transplanted into his body. The interesting Christian and moral elements in 21 GRAMS are undermined by ambiguous humanist elements and plenty of strong foul language, sex, nudity, violence, and drug use.
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