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
Distributed by Focus Features
Release dates
  • December 26, 2003 (2003-12-26)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[2]
Box office $60.4 million[2]

21 Grams is a 2003 American drama film directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu from a screenplay 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 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.

As the second part of Trilogy of Death,[3] 21 Grams is presented in a nonlinear 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.


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".[4]


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

Jack Jordan is a former convict who is using his new-found religious faith to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism. Paul Rivers is a mathematics professor married with a dedicated wife, Mary Rivers 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 is 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 in 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 daughter's death. Jack is shown returning to his family.



Critical response[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."[5] 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."[6] Elvis Mitchell also praised the acting and called the film "an extraordinarily satisfying vision" that "may well be the crowning work of this year."[7]

Box office[edit]

The film was a success with audiences, garnering a worldwide gross of approximately $60 million after being made for an estimated $20 million.[2]


Award Category Recipient Result
76th Academy Awards Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
57th British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Sean Penn Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Naomi Watts Nominated
Best Editing Stephen Mirrione Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
9th Critics' Choice Awards Best Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
Best Actress Naomi Watts Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards 2003[8] Best Actor Sean Penn (also for Mystic River) Won
Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards 2003 Best Actor Sean Penn (also for Mystic River) Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2003 Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
National Board of Review Awards 2003 Best Actor Sean Penn (also for Mystic River) Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards 2003 Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards 2003 Best Actor Sean Penn Nominated
Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Nominated
Best Cast Won
Best Editing Stephen Mirrione Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
8th Golden Satellite Awards Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Sean Penn (also for Mystic River) Won
Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Naomi Watts Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Benicio del Toro Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
10th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Naomi Watts Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Benicio del Toro Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards 2003 Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
60th Venice International Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor Sean Penn Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards 2003 Best Actress Naomi Watts Won
Best Supporting Actor Benicio del Toro Won
Best Original Screenplay Guillermo Arriaga Nominated
World Soundtrack Awards 2003 Discovery of the Year Gustavo Santaolalla Won

See also[edit]

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


  1. ^ "21 GRAMS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 18, 2003. Retrieved November 16, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "21 Grams (2003)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved December 17, 2010.
  3. ^ http://www.nthposition.com/globalismandthefilms.php
  4. ^ "Weight of the Soul". Snopes.com. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  5. ^ "21 Grams (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved April 25, 2014.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger. "21 Grams review". Chicago Sun-Times. RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 17, 2010.
  7. ^ (October 18, 2003). "Movie Review 21 Grams (2003)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  8. ^ "FFCC Award Winners". FloridaFilmCriticsCircle.com. Retrieved June 4, 2011. 

External links[edit]