’21 Grams’ is disorienting and confusing

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn co-star in '21 Grams'
Naomi Watts and Sean Penn co-star in ’21 Grams’

Choppy as all hell, 21 Grams aims to disorient the viewer with scenes that are discontinuous and thoroughly confusing. If you’re used to cohesive, linear narratives, you’ll find that 21 Grams is like that theme park ride that spins round and round until the riders wonder if they made a mistake by opting on to the ride.

A hit and run ties together a dying math teacher in need of a transplant, a grieving mother and a frantically religious ex-con played by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro, respectively. Though their performances are spectacular, the jarring quality of the storytelling devices utilized to unravel the story takes more away from the actors than it gives.

The scenes hit you with the impact a runaway train in an order that delights in unpredictable randomness. Viewers are assaulted with one scene, one more piece of the master plan, just as the next “clue” hits them again without any context or method to the madness. The effect is less dazzling than dizzying.

21 Grams is a roller coaster of painful, brutal scenes that downward spiral at every turn. Tragically intertwined by fate the final scene for these miserable characters culminates in dangerous gunplay. The gunplay should lead to more death but goes one better to exercise the kind of surprising twist that filmmakers take pleasure in leaving for the end.

The title comes from a comment Penn’s character, Paul Rivers, makes in the middle of the film: “We all lose twenty-one grams when we die.” The film is a painful collage of confusion, horrifyingly sickly events and macabre comments like this. This is not a “feel good movie.” It’s a harsh, disturbing statement about life and death.

It is difficult to ascertain whether we’re supposed to love, hate or pity these three who all seem to wish their lives would end. Though they are spared by the tragic car wreck, they are like zombies, the walking dead, because of it. If anything, they merit our pity and possibly our revulsion.

The DVD offers absolutely no special features, commentary or enlightenment. Think of it as a glorified VHS. This is quite an astonishing circumstance considering that 21 Grams leaves much to be explained, explored and dissected.

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