The clue is in the title. Or, more precisely, the main clue is in the title. There’s a twist at the end of The Life Before Her Eyes, and if you’re looking for it, you’ll probably figure it out. With that said, there is more than one way to interpret it, and that added depth is beneficial, especially considering the majority of the story isn’t anything special. It’s not bad, but it’s more of a life film than anything, and the lives in this case aren’t all that interesting.
We begin with a couple of teenagers, Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri) going about their daily life at the local high school. Through many flashbacks in the film, we’ll learn more about them. For now, we’re just going to follow them into the bathroom so that they can gossip about people. They hear gunfire, and before you know it, a classmate of theirs bursts in and announces that he’s going to kill one of them. We also zoom around the school and see the dozens of bodies that he’s already gunned down.
You’re going to have to wait a long time to find out what transpires after he enters the bathroom. Most of the film actually takes place 15 years after the massacre, as Diana (now played by Uma Thurman) is having some sort of post-traumatic stress symptoms now that we’re at its anniversary. She has a daughter and a husband now, although the shooting is weighing heavily on her mind, especially because a lot of the events that are occurring in her day-to-day life are mimicking things that happened earlier to her. Of course, those are used as seamless transitions for the audience, as we move back and forth between Diana’s present and past as the two overlap at every turn.
Most of the interesting parts in The Life Before Her Eyes come from the flashbacks in which we learn how Diana was before becoming the “mature” adult that she is now. We witness everything that she put herself through when she was a teenager, and we understand the relationship between her and Maureen. It’s strongly implied that Maureen didn’t make it through the shooting — we are, after all, following Diana afterward, and we never see Diana as an adult — but despite that, when the bullets begin firing, it hits fairly hard anyway because of the relationship that has been built up between these characters.
There are more clues regarding the twist than just the title, but to really get them, you’re going to have to watch the film a second time, or know what the twist is before hand. They start off very subtlety and get more obvious as we progress. There are a couple at the end that you’ll recognize as “off,” but won’t be able to place exactly why until the credits roll. I’ve read reports of some people being confused at the film’s ending, which leads me to believe that those people just weren’t paying attention. This isn’t too difficult of a film to understand.
It is heavily symbolic, and if you don’t like looking at gorgeous imagery, then you won’t have a good time. The Life Before Her Eyes is under 90 minutes long, and once you account for all the time used for the same flashback that’s been extended only a little, and the unnecessary yet beautiful shots of … flowers, or whatever, you probably only have an hour of film left. I struggle to call it a pretentious film, but some might see it that way, as it’s very lacking in actual content, focusing more on mood, atmosphere and scenery. It looks great, and the cinematography is beautiful.
It’s almost a little irritating just how many times the filmmakers decide to establish certain things. Every time that the gunner bursts into the bathroom, we have to watch him burst in, engage in the same benign dialogue, and so on. We get a little more of the picture each time, but we have to sit through everything that came before it. There are a couple of other scenes that are flashed back to and nothing changes at all. It feels more like padding than anything, and I was tired of it by the time the film ended.
Problematically, The Life Before Her Eyes has two stories, and one of them is far more interesting than the other. When Diana is a teenager, she engages in “questionable” behavior, but is at least an interesting character. The relationship between her and Maureen is sweet and engaging. As an adult, she has to deal with a husband who barely factors in, and a daughter who is annoying for the sake of being annoying. “What are you watching?” “The Magic Schoolbus.” Nope. It turns out she was watching an action movie. That is the kind of drama we have to sit through in the adult Diana’s life.
That’s not to say that Uma Thurman is bad in her role, as she’s just fine. It’s more that her character isn’t given a whole lot to do except look sad and thoughtful as she flashes back to Evan Rachel Wood’s interpretation of the teenage character. There are just so many more interesting events in the younger Diana’s life that it’s hard for a college professor mother to compete, I guess.
The Life Before Her Eyes is a decent attempt at telling an engaging story, although it falls flat for a lot of the time because it doesn’t do anything special. Still, the ending helps add a much needed layer of depth which will either leave you confused or appreciative — maybe both. It does feel like a very padded movie, and if you have symbolic shots of things that are seemingly unrelated to anything going on in the film, you might want to watch something else. Maybe try Stay, which is a similar film in many aspects.