Jan. 6, 2011

The Others (2001)
Grade: 74/100

Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Alakina Mann

What it's about. Set in the United Kingdom island of Jersey, circa 1946. Nicole Kidman lives alone in an old mansion with her two pre-teenaged children, Alakina Mann and James Bentley. Kidman's servants have mysteriously abandoned her, so she hires new ones, sixtyish nanny Fionnula Flanagan, septuagenarian gardener Eric Sykes, and thirtyish mute housekeeper Elaine Cassidy.

Kidman is a religious obsessive, and has great concern for the children's purported sensitivity to light. Her anxious behaviour exasperates everyone, although they all put up with it. Tension reduces briefly when Kidman's soldier husband, whom everyone but Kidman presumes is dead, unexpectedly returns.

But he departs when he learns what Kidman has done. Kidman has other troubles as well: the servants stop obeying her, and Kidman comes to share her young daughter's belief that the mansion is haunted.

How others will see it. Although filmed entirely in English, the movie was made in Spain, by Spanish writer and director Alejandro Amenábar. It proved to be Spain's most commercially successful film ever, and was also hailed by critics. Ignored by the Academy Awards, The Others and Kidman did pick up a Best Actress Golden Globe nomination, and the movie dominated the Goya Awards, Spain's version of the Academy Awards, where the film won in eight categories and was nominated in seven others.

At 7.8 out of 10, the imdb.com user ratings are very high, although there is a slight decline with advancing age. The story seems fresh and has a pleasing Sixth Sense-style "surprise" plot twist at the end.

How I felt about it. It's very good. The casting is excellent, and the writing and direction is solid. Of course, the plot twist only explains so much. For example, ghosts should only be able to interact with physical objects to a very limited degree, or else they aren't ghosts. In fact, it seems that the dead aren't dead at all, they just stop getting visits from the postman and preacher.

If the usual science fiction credibility issues are set aside, we have a set of interesting relationships, all centered about Ms. Kidman. She is in denial, of course, about all sorts of things, beginning with her nearly fanatical religious faith. Her son is willing to accept things as Kidman would like them to be, but her daughter is a bit older, and acts up when she questions Kidman's actions and judgment. She also knows Kidman's secret, something that Kidman herself has yet to accept.

The strange servant trio seems oddly unconcerned by Kidman's paranoia, or by the increasingly prevalent notion that the mansion is haunted. They aren't even fearful when Kidman picks up a rifle and aims it at them. And for good reason, as we eventually find out.

Besides offering another twist on the usual ghost story, what does The Others try to teach us? Certainly, that we can't rely upon the Holy Bible to resolve our problems. And that if everyone else is treating you strangely, it's likely because of you, and not them. But the biggest lesson of all is that when you finally accept the truth, life makes much more sense, and is easier to get through. Even if you are, in fact, no longer alive.