The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Grief is an unfortunate yet unavoidable process. This can be related to and can include loss of a relationship, job, or physical or emotional loss of a loved one. While there are various stages of grief, each individual handles it differently. They may exact revenge, anger, guilt, or detachment. Regardless, these events are life-altering. They halt the anticipated course of our life trajectory, interrupting any previous sense of rationale we once held. “The Sweet Hereafter”, a 1997 Canadian film directed by Atom Egoyan, explores the complex web of emotions associated with grief and bereavement following great tragedy impacting a rural community in British Columbia.

Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), an outside lawyer with a complex and contentious relationship with his daughter Zoe (Caerthan Banks), ventures to a small Canadian town during a harsh winter. He is representing a group of citizens in a class action lawsuit for negligence against their own town and a bus company. We quickly learn the true, heartbreaking nature of this lawsuit – a bus accident claiming the lives of fourteen children. Carefully paced, Stephens unearths the raw reality, fears, and new challenges of those affected by the crash, wrestling with his role in Zoe’s battle with drug addiction.

There are many techniques enhancing storytelling used in this devastating yet beautiful film. Firstly, it is crafted such that the story is out of sequence. This aids to juxtapose between a sorrowful present and a once joyful past, but also to highlight parallels between Stephens’ suffering and that of the community. In addition, “The Pied Piper” is incorporated into the story, showcasing similarities between a legend known to many and this town’s tragedy. Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley) narrates, and her role as “the lame child” serves as a metaphor for her own fate. As a whole, these techniques enhance the palpability of the film’s catastrophic truths.

“The Sweet Hereafter” is spoken within a phrase near the end of the film. Nicole recites that the once united community is now emotionally disbanded, living separate “strange and new” lives in the “sweet hereafter”. I initially felt that there is a great sense of irony in the title, as the future following a mass casualty seems quite grim. However, in the process of grief, acceptance is generally deemed as the final stage. I do not believe that we “move on” from tragic events as they will forever be imprinted in our memories, but we try to create a new sense of normalcy through an understanding and acceptance of our past. Through this, we may be able to find peace and meaning in the new paths we forge.

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This is part of the Ultimate 90’s Blogathon hosted by Kim from Tranquil Dreams and Drew from Drew’s Movie Reviews. Please head on over and check out the other awesome entries!

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John and the Missus (1986)

Communities are not just geographical dots on a map. They are composed of a multifaceted group of individuals and families providing many essential services. As there may be a central source of industry in a town, for example, that may be a point of connection for community members. This in turn with many other factors as well as human decency creates and fosters human essence, interdependency, trust, and a true sense of home. Community members celebrate joyous occasions, but may even express a wider variety of emotions during difficult times, such as complacency, anger, and sadness. “John and the Missus” is a film starring and directed and written by Canadian legend Gordon Pinsent, exploring community response to duress. The film captures a specific time in Newfoundland and Labrador history, whereby one issue was on many minds in small communities – resettlement.

John Munn (Gordon Pinsent) is a longstanding resident of Cup Cove, a community founded upon by copper mining. Multiple generations of his family have lived in this area, and John therefore has a deep sense of pride and roots to his hometown. The spiritual presence of John’s father is sometimes viewed and experienced upon the screen. At some points during the film, we see that John and the “missus” (Jackie Burroughs) have both cultivated a family and life here, and could never imagine leaving their quaint home. However, two major events delivered shockwaves through Cup Cove. The closure of the mine meant unemployment, and the Smallwood era government mandate of resettlement to larger towns, including providing $1000 to families for moving costs, indicated forced displacement from their beloved homes. Citizens have a myriad of reactions to this news, including hope, guilt, joy, grief, loss, and fear. No one is angrier than John about this prospect, and the film continues to navigate through his own emotions with his family’s support. This movie also encapsulates the absolute beauty and ruggedness of my home province, which allowed me to further engage in this historically important story.

Resettlement has been a highly debated topic throughout the most recent history of the province. Prior to the beginning of the program in the early 1950s, there were already multiple emerging ghost towns due to a poor natural environment and unemployment. The perceived viability of one’s community versus fiscal responsibility, service acquisition, and industrialization were used to rationalize this initiative. A large proportion of the community (initially 90% then 80%) had to agree to this uprooting. Many individuals reported feeling content with the move and the accompanying increase in educational and employment opportunities. Personally, I could imagine a sense of abandonment, disruption, and longing for one’s original place of upbringing in these circumstances. Home is a vital component of our sense of self, and any pressured removal from that environment can be quite devastating and stressful. Some may find the opposite true, greatly welcoming a new beginning. Regardless, the establishment of a home anchors us, allowing each human to contribute to society and to uniquely flourish.

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If you would like to read further about the history of NL resettlement, please click on this link: https://www.mun.ca/mha/resettlement/

This post is a part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy!

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