21 Grams

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21 Grams
21 grams movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Robert Salerno
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
Starring Sean Penn
Naomi Watts
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Benicio del Toro
Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Stephen Mirrione
Production
company
Distributed by Focus Features
Release dates
  • December 26, 2003 (2003-12-26)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $60,427,839

21 Grams is a 2003 American drama film directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, and Benicio del Toro.

Like Arriaga's and González Iñárritu's previous film, Amores perros (2000), 21 Grams interweaves several plot lines, around the consequences of a tragic automobile accident. Penn plays a critically ill academic mathematician, Watts plays a grief-stricken mother, and del Toro plays a born-again Christian ex-convict whose faith is sorely tested in the aftermath of the accident.

21 Grams is presented in a non-linear arrangement where the lives of the characters are depicted before and after the accident. The three main characters each have 'past', 'present', and 'future' story threads, which are shown as non-linear fragments that punctuate elements of the overall story, all imminently coming toward each other and coalescing as the story progresses.

Title[edit]

The title refers to the early 20th-century research of physician Dr. Duncan MacDougall who attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the immortal human soul by recording a loss of body weight (representing the departure of the soul) immediately following death. The research by MacDougall attempted to follow the scientific method and showed some variance in results ("three-fourths of an ounce", which has since been popularized as "21 grams" is the reported weight loss from the death of the first subject). MacDougall's results were published in the peer reviewed journal "American Medicine", however the film presents MacDougall's findings as accepted scientific fact as a form of dramatic license.[1]

Plot[edit]

The story is told in a non-linear manner. The following is a linear, chronological summary of the plot:

Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) is a former convict who is using his new-found religious faith to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematics professor married with a dedicated wife, Mary Rivers (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and with a fatal heart condition. Unless he receives a new heart from an organ donor, he will not live longer than one month. Paul's wife wants him to donate his sperm so she can have his baby even if he dies. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is also a recovering drug addict and now lives a normal suburban life with a supportive husband and two children. She is a loving mother and active swimmer who has left her days of drugs and booze behind. These three separate stories/characters become tied together one evening when Jack kills Cristina's husband and children in a hit-and-run accident. Her husband's heart is donated to Paul, who begins his recovery.

Cristina is devastated by the loss and returns to drugs and alcohol. Paul is eager to begin normal life again, but he hesitantly agrees to his wife's idea of surgery and artificial insemination as a last-ditch effort to get pregnant. During consultations with a doctor before the surgery, Paul learns that his wife had undergone an abortion after they had separated in the past. Angered, Paul ends the relationship. He becomes very inquisitive about whose heart he has. He learns from a private detective that the heart belonged to Cristina's husband and begins to follow the widowed Cristina around town.

Jack is stricken with guilt following the accident and starts using drugs again. Despite his wife's protests to keep quiet and conceal his guilt, Jack tells her that his "duty is to God" and turns himself in. While incarcerated, he claims that God had betrayed him, loses his will to live and tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide. He is released after Cristina declines to press charges, as she realizes that putting Jack in prison will not bring her family back. When Jack is released, he is unable to reincorporate himself into normal family life, and instead leaves home to live as a transient, working a job of manual labor.

Paul finds an opportunity to meet Cristina and eventually reveals how the two of them are connected. She is initially furious and forces him out, but quickly reconsiders. Desperately needing one another, they continue their relationship. Though Paul has a new heart, his body is rejecting the transplant and his outlook is grim. As Cristina begins to dwell more on her changed life and the death of her girls, she becomes obsessed with exacting revenge on Jack. She goads Paul into agreeing to murder him.

Paul meets with the private detective who originally found Cristina for him. He tells Paul that Jack is living in a motel and sells Paul a gun. Paul and Cristina check into the motel where Jack is staying. When Jack is walking alone, Paul grabs him and leads him out into a clearing at gunpoint with the intention of killing him. However, Paul is unable to kill Jack, who himself is confused, shaking and pleading during the event. Paul tells Jack to "just disappear," then returns to the motel, lying to Cristina about Jack's death. Later that night, while they are sleeping, Paul and Cristina are awakened by a noise outside their door. It's Jack, who, still consumed by guilt, orders Paul to kill him and end his misery. There is a struggle, and Cristina blind-sides Jack and begins to beat him with a wooden lamp. Paul has a heart attack and shoots himself both to avoid dying from asphyxia and to prevent Cristina from killing Jack.

Jack and Cristina rush Paul to the hospital. Jack tells the police that he was the one who shot Paul, but is released when his story cannot be confirmed. Paul dies, and the conflict between Cristina and Jack remains unresolved (they meet in the waiting room after Paul's death; if they converse, it is not shown). Cristina learns in the hospital that she is pregnant. After Paul's death, Cristina is seen tentatively preparing for the new child in one of her daughter's bedrooms, which she had previously been unable to enter after her daughters' death. Jack is shown returning to his family.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

The film was received with much acclaim. 80% of all critics gave the film positive reviews per Rotten Tomatoes, based on 178 reviews with an average rating of 7.5/10. The critical consensus states that "Alejandro González Iñárritu deftly weaves an uncommonly structured narrative with panache in 21 Grams, a stylish, haunting drama full of fine performances." [2] Roger Ebert, for example, questioned the use of non-linear narrative, but praised the acting and said of the film overall: "It grips us, moves us, astonishes us."[3] Elvis Mitchell also praised the acting and called the film "an extraordinarily satisfying vision" that "may well be the crowning work of this year."[4]

The film was also a success with audiences, garnering a worldwide gross of approximately $60 million after being made for an estimated $20 million.[5]

Awards[edit]

The film received nominations at the 2003 Academy Awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Benicio del Toro) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Naomi Watts).

Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Editing Stephen Mirrione Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Screenplay – Original Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Best Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
Florida Film Critics[6] Best Actor Sean Penn Won
Florida Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Best Actor Sean Penn
(also for Mystic River)
Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
National Board of Review Best Actor Sean Penn
(also for Mystic River)
Won
Online Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Online Film Critics Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu Nominated
Online Film Critics Best Screenplay – Original Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Phoenix Film Critics Best Cast Cast Won
Phoenix Film Critics Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Best Editing Stephen Mirrione Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Best Screenplay – Original Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actor – Drama Sean Penn
(also for Mystic River)
Won
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Drama Naomi Watts Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor – Drama Benicio del Toro Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Screenplay – Original Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Best Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Venice Film Festival Coppa Volpi (Best Actor) Sean Penn Won
Washington DC Area Film Critics Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Washington DC Area Film Critics Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Won
Washington DC Area Film Critics Best Screenplay – Original Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
World Soundtrack Awards Discovery of the Year Gustavo Santaolalla Won

See also[edit]

  • Hyperlink cinema – the film style of using multiple inter-connected story lines.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Snopes.com". 
  2. ^ "21 Grams". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved April 25th, 2014.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. "21 Grams Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved December 17, 2010.
  4. ^ (October 18, 2003). "Movie Review 21 Grams (2003)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2013..
  5. ^ "21 Grams (2003)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 17, 2010.
  6. ^ "FFCC Award Winners". Florida Film Critics. Retrieved 2011-06-04. 

External links[edit]