Beloved (1998) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (Three Beers) –

Toni Morrison is currently one of the most famous writers in contemporary fiction. She is the recipient of both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer, and has composed some of the most powerful novels in American literature. Some of her novels include The Bluest Eye and Sula, but there has only been one major film adaptation of a Toni Morrison novel. Oprah Winfrey loved the novel Beloved so much that she literally devoted ten years to produce and star in the film version of that “beloved” novel (pun intended). The film is actually a very interesting take on a contemporary classic, albeit with some flaws.

A Toast

Beloved is actually a film that is hauntingly beautiful. It does its best to capture the complexity of the African-American experience, which is a signature trademark within Toni Morrison’s writing. The film also received an Academy Award nomination for “Best Costume Design” even though Colleen Atwood’s designs were not as glamorous as Sandy Powell’s costumes for Shakespeare in Love (1998). The overall visual design of Beloved is actually beautiful in the sense that it reveals the harsh realities of slavery in America in the late 1800s. It might not be the fanciest film, but it still has its own style as unique as Toni Morrison’s spellbinding prose.

Beer Two

Even with its artistic merits, the film does not exactly do the original novel justice. The purpose of the supernatural elements within the novel is so that Toni Morrison could provide social commentary about racism and prejudice that has affected African-Americans throughout history. The film almost completely ignores Morrison’s intentions by displaying the supernatural aspects of the novel like a B-rated horror film. Such content actually makes the film very scary.

Beer Three

As previously mentioned, the film actually IS really scary! There are numerous instances in which the title character “Beloved” terrorizes everyone in her monstrous path, especially her own mother, Sethe (Oprah). There are also some graphic depictions of slaves being abused, including scars of Sethe’s back as the result of being whipped by slave masters. Ironically, such graphic depictions of terror accurately portray the horrific experiences of African-Americans that Toni Morrison wanted to comment on through her literary contributions. At least the film got that part right! (even though it is not exactly “on par” with Morrison’s celebrated novel).

Verdict

Upon its original publication in 1987, critics described Beloved as “mesmerizing” and “voluptuous.” Because of such eloquence and power, it is no wonder that the novel inspired Oprah to produce the film version of this literary triumph. The film might not be the best adaptation ever, but it can still provide a nice history lesson to audiences while also encouraging them to practice acceptance instead of spreading hatred. The character “Beloved” might be a vengeful spirit, and the plot of the novel might not be “a story to pass on,” but the film can still inspire people to delve into the  novels that made Toni Morrison one of the most important writers in the American literary canon.

Beloved (1998) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Beloved terrorizes 124 (which is the main home in the original novel)

Take a Drink: for every haunting flashback

Take a Drink: every time the color “red” appears (such as supernatural red lights, red blood, etc.) Fun fact: The original novel is sometimes published with that color, too!

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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