The Sweet Hereafter (film)

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The Sweet Hereafter
The Sweet Hereafter poster.jpg
North American theatrical release poster
Directed by Atom Egoyan
Produced by Atom Egoyan
Camelia Frieberg
Screenplay by Atom Egoyan
Based on The Sweet Hereafter 
by Russell Banks
Starring Ian Holm
Sarah Polley
Bruce Greenwood
Music by Mychael Danna
Cinematography Paul Sarossy
Edited by Susan Shipton
Distributed by Fine Line Features
Release dates
  • 14 May 1997 (1997-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 10 October 1997 (1997-10-10) (Canada)
Running time 112 minutes
Country Canada
Language English
Budget $5,000,000[citation needed]
Box office $3,263,585[1]

The Sweet Hereafter is a 1997 Canadian film written and directed by Atom Egoyan. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Russell Banks.


Life is difficult in a small town in British Columbia in the wake of a terrible school bus accident in which numerous local children are killed. Hardly able to cope with the loss, their grieving parents are approached by a lawyer, Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), who wants them to sue for damages by claiming the bus was faulty. He is meanwhile haunted by his dysfunctional relationship with his own adult daughter, a drug addict. At first most of the parents are reluctant to sue, but eventually they are persuaded by Stephens that filing a class action lawsuit would ease their minds and also be the right thing to do.

As most of the children are dead, the case now depends on the few surviving witnesses to say the right things in court. In particular, it is 15-year-old Nicole Burnell (Sarah Polley), who was sitting at the front of the bus and is now paralyzed from the waist down, whose deposition is all-important. Before the accident, Nicole was a budding country music prodigy and she senses that her parents want justice and a large cash settlement to replace her lost music earnings—and not necessarily in that order. In the pretrial deposition, she unexpectedly accuses driver Dolores Driscoll (Gabrielle Rose) of speeding and thus causing the accident. When she does so, all hopes of holding the bus company liable vanish along with the possibility of a big settlement. It is implied[citation needed] that Nicole's motivation was partly to punish her father, who was sexually abusing her. Those involved know that Nicole is lying but can do nothing. The trial never occurs, leaving the townspeople, and Stephens, to cope in other ways with the uncertain future.


Factual basis[edit]

See article on the novel.


Banks approved of Egoyan's adaptation, playing a role in the film as the town doctor, and discussing the film with Egoyan in the DVD's commentary track. Not only did Banks approve of the adaptation, but he also freely admitted that this was one instance in which the film was better than the book.

In adapting the novel, Egoyan changed the setting from Upstate New York to Canada. Another major change is Egoyan's addition of references to the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, which Nicole is seen reading to children who later die in the accident. In that story, the Pied Piper leads all the children away, never to return, after their parents refuse to honour their debt to him. The only child left in the now-childless town is a crippled child who was unable to follow the Piper's song and now wishes he could have gone with the other children. In the movie, the survivor, Nicole, clearly identifies with this child, in contrast to her motivation in the novel where she is primarily acting out of anger against her father.


The movie was filmed in five locations: Moha, British Columbia; Merritt, British Columbia; Spences Bridge, British Columbia; Stouffville, Ontario; and Toronto, Ontario.[2]


The Pied Piper theme is further enhanced through Mychael Danna's score, which is heavily influenced by Medieval and Renaissance music with frequent appearances of a flute.

Polley's character, Nicole, was an aspiring singer before the accident, and is seen on stage at various points in the film performing both The Tragically Hip's "Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour". The Tragically Hip's original version of "Courage" also appears in the film.


The film received overwhelming critical acclaim upon its release. It holds a rare 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.9/10 based on 53 reviews, and a 100% rating based on 15 "Top Critic" reviews.[3] In 2002, readers of Playback voted it the greatest Canadian film ever made.[4] In 2004, the Toronto International Film Festival ranked it fourth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time.[5]


The Sweet Hereafter won three awards at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival: the FIPRESCI Prize, the Grand Prize of the Jury, and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.[6] It won Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor (Holm), and three other prizes at the Genie Awards. It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to Titanic and L.A. Confidential, respectively.


External links[edit]