Friday, June 1, 2012


Is it okay to murder a despicable human being?  That would depend on one’s perspective I suppose.
            The movie, Bernie, was well written, well directed, and well acted. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was Jack Black’s best performance to date and may likely earn him an Oscar nomination.
            Getting back to my original question: is it okay to murder a despicable human being?  Bernie would have us believe that it is. (Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know about the movie, stop reading now).
            Based on true events, Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater, tells the story of a beloved funeral director, in his thirties, whose generosity of spirit and whose kindness are very much appreciated in the small Texas town where this takes place. When Bernie befriends a wealthy, elderly widow who is despised by the community for her meanness, the town is aghast. Most people think Bernie a saint for putting up with the woman’s cruel and controlling ways.
            Bernie accepts all that ‘Margy’ dishes out until one day he snaps and shoots her to death.
            The story is conveyed in mock documentary style with all the residents weighing in on whether Bernie, who ultimately admits to killing the woman and stuffing her body in a freezer, should be found guilty.
            The movie was very well done and I enjoyed watching it but at the same time, it left me thinking about how manipulative films can be in spinning a point of view.  In this film, only the D.A. (played by Matthew McConaughey) and family members are disturbed by what is truly a horrific act (and the family members are not portrayed sympathetically).
            Through the eyes of the movie makers we are left to sympathize with Bernie, a sweet, loving man who is dominated by this witch of a woman (played as the ultimate bitch by veteran actor Shirley McClaine). Bernie uses any money he gets from her estate, not on himself but to help the townspeople and the church.
            Did such a man deserve his sentence of life in prison?  Wasn’t he doing the town a service in eliminating this awful woman?  There’s a side here that we’re not seeing. Margy’s side and that of her family.  Here was a young man who took up with a wealthy old woman, a man who traveled and vacationed with her in first class luxury. No one held a gun to his head to stay. Bernie covered up her death for months. Yet, we, the audience are left hoping that he’ll be acquitted.
            Remember, Dorothy Gale killed two witch sisters (yes, the deaths were accidental – one witch flattened by a house, her sister melted by water – but she killed them none the less) and yet did we, for one moment, want Dorothy to pay for her crimes?  Certainly not.
            Films can easily get us to sympathize with even the most heinous characters (case in point, Bonnie & Clyde).  This is not to say that we can’t enjoy the movie, only that we should be cognizant of the fact that often our feelings are being manipulated.

Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me along RHODES LESS TRAVELED,


1 comment:

  1. I also enjoyed aspects of the film but felt throughout I was being manipulated to sympathize w/the murderer and despise the victim. In fact, Bernie was portrayed as the "victim" -- and in today's world, being a "victim" gives a person "exalted status", exempting one from any responsibility. Be someone the news media portrays as a "victim" and anything you do is excusable.(In a way, it's an extension of what Alan Dershowitz once called the "abuse excuse.") But Bernie was not a victim. He was not a minor who was being exploited. He was not a spouse experiencing domestic abuse. He was a voluntary companion to a rich woman who some would say was being exploited by him. She may or may not have been nasty--(towns people may have deemed her nasty out of envy of her wealth)--but she was rich -- and Bernie was living very well on her money. Nothing kept him from using his two feet and walking away. His acts of "altruism" were portrayed as being redemptive. Really? They could also have been an excellent "cover." But whether such "acts of kindness and altruism" were authentic or not is irrelevant. More than one murderer has shocked a community when their "dastardly deeds" were discovered because they were so "active" in their respective churches and had contributed so much to the community. Although the acting was excellent - the maniupulative nature of the film began to grate.