Beloved

171 minutes

The revelation of dark secrets in narratives is often anticlimactic, but not in this exquisite expressionist drama (1998) about a haunted woman who's escaped slavery to live in dreamy yet nightmarish isolation with her daughter in Ohio. In a small but labyrinthine house racked by violent supernatural activity, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) and Denver (Kimberly Elise) receive unexpected visitors whose motives are powerful and obscure. One is Paul D (Danny Glover), a long-lost family friend who tells Sethe things about the past she didn't know. The other is a stranger (Thandie Newton) who competes with Denver for Sethe's attention before the four learn too much about one another to continue living like a family. Using overwhelmingly potent performances, audacious static close-ups, assertive lighting, and a rigorous yet lyrical interweaving of events set in three different time frames, this terrifyingly beautiful movie blends metaphor and stark social commentary to achieve a spontaneous grace. Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese, and Adam Brooks adapted the novel by Toni Morrison, and Jonathan Demme directed.

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