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Movie Reviews

A Map Of The World  

A Map of the World is an example of a truly adult drama. Unlike a lot of other dramas, even good ones, which feature popular stars (and which cost more and make more money than this one), this film is very complex in its characterizations, and mature and frank in its subject matter. When I refer to 'complex', I don't just mean the good kind of complexity with delightful twists and what have you, but the yucky kind as well in which the viewer may start doubting and questioning our protagonists in ways that, for some viewers, may be very upsetting. And the subject matter is pretty disturbing as well.


Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore and David Strathairn star in a story which brings up some of the absolute worst nightmares ever imagined by a family with children, yet is depicted with little overt melodrama. Weaver and Strathairn farm, and Weaver is also the school nurse, who has one particularly nasty child whose mother clearly does not take very good care of him, and on the last day of school, Weaver calls her up on that. As usual, this bad parent says to the nurse that it is none of her business how she raises her child.

A few days later, Weaver watches Moore's children for the day, and tragedy strikes. One of Moore's little girls goes missing before a planned swim in the lake. To her horror, Weaver discovers the child floating, face down, in that very same lake. The daughter is rushed to hospital, her parents hold a bedside vigil, but nothing can be done, and the child dies from severe brain damage. Of course, the girl's parents are devastated, but Weaver is at least as devastated, so much so that this energetic, driven woman is reduced to someone who can barely get out of bed in the morning.

Eventually, she does get out of bed, only to get arrested. The mother of the nasty child has her arrested for child abuse. It seems outrageous that this woman, who appears a very unlikely candidate to commit the kind of abuse described, is abruptly dragged off to prison to await trial. But what this event does is change everything, from the opinions of people in the town, to the dynamics within the family.

For the small town, the abuse charge seems to have flowed naturally from the tragic event beforehand (a number of people ignore her and talk about her behind her back during and after the girl's funeral), and, as well, it is clear to the audience that much of the reason this abuse charge even came about is because the mother now has the ammunition to get back at Weaver's holier-than-thou attitude. For the family, it is also troubling, because all of the family members are ostracized by the town, and the dynamics within the family change as well. The father, who before was rather distant, is forced to do all the things that he left to his wife. He also, I think, seems to have doubts, at first, about his wife's innocence and state of mind, when she attempts to distance herself from the reality of the charges against her by trying to act cheerful and motherly when talking to him in the prison. Weaver herself suffers because she is thrown into jail with women who are intellectually and morally depraved, including her cellmate, who drowned her two newborn twins, because they were born black from a black father (I`m wondering about the whole logic of that crime, but I guess this kind of crime isn't exactly logical!). On the legal and courtroom front, Weaver is represented by a lawyer who treats everything as a diseased form of human comedy.

The acting of the two lead actresses are wonderful in their own unique ways. Julianne Moore has the much smaller role, but gives probably the most emotionally charged moment, in a scene by the lake in which she tells Weaver of her fear that she would not remember much about her dead daughter only to discover that she remembered a lot more than even she imagined. She is also very interesting in that she never once doubts Weaver or gets back at her for anything, even when one would say she has more reason to be bitter than the rest of the town.

Weaver has the more difficult role, which may upset some viewers. There is much ambiguity in her character; the truth is that a child did die in her care, even if it was mostly assuredly an accident. There are a number of strange, enigmatic flashbacks involved the alleged child victim which some viewers may question, expecting that perhaps there is a somewhat valid reason to the abuse charges. But most importantly, Weaver's character is a stubborn and possibly arrogant woman. She is burdened with a crippling guilt when her perfectionism is punctured in the most horrific way. She can go around saying that some parents are bad and that their children are threatened, but her own homelife isn't much better, with a daughter who constantly tells her she hates her, and a husband who seems indifferent to anything that does not involve the farm. But, at the same time, the fact is, there is a difference when a mistake is made out of carelessness, or just plain fate, and when a person deliberately, and malicouslessly commits a horrible act, and it is not fair for the town to automatically believe that one is the same, or the cause of, the other, and it isn't fair to take advantage of other people's mistakes for personal gain.

A Map of The World is a great, if long, drama for those who are willing to wade into depressing waters, and to face the hard truths about the complexities of people and the repercussions of actions and events upon those people. It contains great performances, including one by Sigourney Weaver which proves that she can do much more than battle aliens if given the chance.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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