172 min., 1998
Written by Akosua Busia/Richard LaGravenese/Adam Brooks
Directed by Jonathan Demme
My rating: ★★
I thought all ghosts were white?!
* * *
So for the first time on Forced Viewing, we have an example of a negro ghost story better known in the African American community as “negrostery.” We’ve got Academy award winning acting of a vibrant Oprah Winfrey, a strong example of classical trained male acting in Danny Glover, an up and coming Tyler Perry production hopeful Thandie Newton. This fine spooktacular production documents the daily haunting of Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) by the spirit of her dearly departed offspring, Beloved (Thandie Newton.) Apparently one word names were in back then, kind of like Prince, Madonna, or Voldemort… you get my drift. This occurrence is so routine, by the way, that her poor dog who looks like he spent the weekend at the Michael Vick Dog Run and Kennel (yeah, I went there) gets a slap and stick patch job from Oprah after being twirled around the room like a four legged cyclone and smacked around like it was once married to Ike Turner. All this is done in full view of her three living children, two of which have the common goddamn sense to get the hell out of dodge while the gettin’ good. Her dutiful daughter stays even though she can’t be more than eight or nine years old when her brothers escape from the crazy.
Flash forward eight years after this incident and we still find ourselves in rural Cincinnati in the early 1870’s witnessing the return of an old time friend or lover in the form of the travellin’ man about town Paul D. Garner (Danny Glover.) After a brief and touching reunion, he and Oprah decide to go inside and sat a spell when he notices a glowing red aura emanating from inside the house. Like all good superstitious negroes he asks, “What kinda evil you got in there?” To which she replies, “It ain’t evil, just sad… com’ on.” This is the point at which I would have taken my crusty ass right back on the road, bid her a fine evenin’ ma’am, and been on my way. I can only assume that the head on his shoulders, which was fully aware of the spooky goings on round these parts, was deprived of the vital blood it needed as it was redirected to his weary, presumably unused loins. Moving forward, we see Oprah’s daughter all growed up, about the ripe age of sixteen possibly eighteen for my own piece of mind. In this newcomer’s presence, she starts wailing about how she can’t take living in this haunted house.. When Danny Glover agrees that she should probably leave or move so they can stop living such a hard life in such a haunted space, Oprah goes on some long diatribe about how she ran from Alabama I am assuming and ran from several other things and ain’t runnin’ no mo’. When the ghost, as per usual, starts kicking up a fuss, it’s after she explains to Paul D. (not to be confused with Paula Dean, even though both in my opinion are black to their very souls) inquires about the scars she says she acquired when running so many years ago. This is where shit gets really convoluted and flat the fuck out weird. Apparently, she was cornered in a barn by the white men on this particular plantation while trying to go give her milk to her baby. Instead, these white men force lactated her, drank her milk from the teat, and had their way with her. When she told matriarch of this particular family, who was apparently on her death bed, she wept for this atrocity, but once word got back to her victimizers, she was whipped while pregnant until her back was flayed open and left to heal in the shape of a choke cherry tree. Paul D. parrots back these details in disbelief but the primary part Oprah focuses on is that they took her milk. As tragic as the ordeal was, I find myself in the middle of a profound WTF moment, because moments later, Paul D. comes up behind her and starts fondling her breasts. Never in cinematic history has sex scene been more awkward than this exchange and the exchange to follow since Monster’s Ball. After this tender moment of inappropriate sexual healing, the ghost of her dead daughter decides to go all poltergeist on his ass, rattling furnitureand throwing tables. Even more surprising is his reaction to this spectral hissy fit. He decides to push back against the force of the ghost and some sick reverse tug of war where against all odds he actually overpowers the force of the ghost subduing its tirade. During this whole crazy assed ghost fight, this same sixteen year old girl that was carrying on some time ago about how terrible it is to live in a haunted house, was behind a chair pointing and giggling like she was America’s Funniest Haunted Home Videos. The look of pure disappointment on her face when he gets her sister to do the impossible and sit her invisible ass down in a corner for a time out is so out of character for the sobbing victim she just portrayed herself to be that I was simply flabbergasted.
Emerging victorious, Danny Glover is awarded with some post ghost pwning poontang. Apparently after one night, this nigga sprung and starts trying to play house, do chores, and take folks to carnivals and such. Oprah is ok with the idea, though understandably skeptical. All her daughter knows for sure is that she misses her sister’s antics and she has a deep belief that her sister is not gone just making dark and sinister plans. Flash forward a short period of time and we find a woman shrouded in black teetering around in the woods. Of course this turns out to be Beloved in a new found body. What does she choose to do in this all grown up body? Well, everything you would expect a baby to do, including drool, sleep 80 % of her days away, crap herself, and stumble around because she doesn’t have the coordination to walk. Her sister is automatically aware of who she is, it just seems that no one else has a clue. They seem to be too busy getting on with the business of living. With Sethe and Paul D. in love, they’re too distracted to notice Denver teaching her sister how to do everything she never lived long enough to learn how to do. As the days pass, Beloved and her sister are virtually inseparable and with Sethe joining their happy little trio, the women seem to be all but ignoring Paul D.’s presence. The three of them become a regular black Ya Ya sisterhood, as Beloved’s seemingly simple minded charm gets her mother to open up about a great many things from her past. When she does, it seems a sisterly jealously starts creeping into Denver’s heart and her being blissfulness at Beloved’s presence starts to fade.
Without laboring through line by line of Oprah and her kids getting closer while her and Paul D. grow further apart, I’ll just tell you that at some point thanks to some turtles, a creek bed, and some mid-day snogging by Sethe and Paul D., Beloved discovers what sex is and sets her sights on getting a little backwood bootay from Danny Glover. He ends up sleeping in the shed until she literally bedevils him and ghost rapes him. After she has forced herself on him, he tries to work up the nerve to tell Sethe but instead blurts out that he wants to start a family with her by getting her knocked up. All seems to be going to plan until he tells his coworkers of his plans with her. One of the older gents tells him of how she ended up in the paper some years ago and when he confronts Sethe about it she tells him all about the day Beloved died. It would seem as though she was settling in to her new place with her mother and all seemed well. Until that is, a white man came to claim her offspring and take her back to Sweet Home. She grabs her kids, runs to the shed, and goes completely apeshit. She bashes both of her sons heads in, slits Beloved’s throat with a saw, and in the process of swinging Denver around like a shotput and is just about to let her go when the younger version of Paul D.’s coworker snatches up the baby just in time. Disgusted at the loss of his property, the white man leaves. It would seem his departure may have been premature, as it seems with the exception of Beloved, the other children all we just bloodied up and dazed. Hearing this Paul D. decides if she can’t love him as well as holding on to the ghost of her lost daughter (whom she still is too dense to see is Beloved) that he is just going to hit the road again and leaves. This is when the shit hits the fan.
Sometime after that, Beloved reveals herself to her mother and Sethe ends up spending every dimes she has saved on sweet feasts, beautiful fabrics, and toys to keep Beloved happy and entertained. At some point, the money runs out and without a job we see Beloved enter a temper tantrum of epic proportions. Oprah goes one sleepless night after another, sewing, cooking, and waiting on Beloved hand and foot while Denver gets completely ignored. Oprah seems to go into a trancelike state where she appears to be completely under Beloved’s spell, forcing Denver to venture out in unfamiliar territory and find work. No one will hire her at first but the women of the town start leaving plates of food on her stump. Eventually the rumors spread of the newly resurrected Beloved to this circle of old women and they come wailing, moaning, and praying this spirit back to rest. For the first time in several months, Oprah leaves her house to venture forth onto the porch to hear these women with Beloved in tow. As she exposes her to the group of ladies, you see the fruits of her night rape labor since her belly is swollen and pregnant by at least 8 months. After that, her spirit left never to be seen or heard from again. Oprah becomes a depressed shut in that barely eats or leaves her bed while Denver starts going to school again and becomes one of those learned colored girls you read about in the history books.
This story doesn’t end on a completely fucked note as Paul D. runs into Denver and after hearing all about Sethe’s condition goes back to the house and vows to take care of her, never to leave again. This movie will get one star for concept and despite its seriously suck ass nature, the girl playing Denver and Danny Glover’s performances are what salvage this steaming pile letting a little of it stick to the jockey shorts rather than letting the whole thing end up in the toilet. If you want to just laugh at the sheer absurdity of the film, that would be the only reason I’d recommend it. I will see you for my next review, and since this wasn’t capable of doing it, may all your other films bring fright.Have You Read...?