THE HUMAN STAIN
The Human Stain takes a penetrating look at the myths with which society surrounds itself in order to remain ‘respectable’, and how those myths are simply a portal into another level of suffering. It portrays the stains which persist in society, and which, even after constant cleansing, get perpetuated into the future and our lives in one form or the other.
I thought that the theme was very interesting, the movie itself, less so. Anthony Hopkins plays Coleman Silk, a highly respected Professor of Classics at Athena College, Massachusetts. Right from his arrival, he has catapulted the College to fame and respectability, and has become Dean. His own respectability is undermined when he once innocently calls two black students, perpetually absent from class, as ‘spooks’. He is unaware of the derogatory meaning of the phrase, and the two students press charges against him. He resigns in anger, and the faculty members apparently are only too satisfied to let him go, because they want to avoid scandal. The year is 1998, and the country itself is enveloped in the throes of a scandal-the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.
Silk’s wife dies from the shock of the accusations, and Silk becomes a lonely, dark, grudging man. Some solace comes in the form of a friendship with a young writer (Gary Sinise), himself living in seclusion in the woods after a hard fight with cancer. But the wheels of Silk’s destiny really start turning when he begins an intense affair with an illiterate janitor (Nicole Kidman), many years younger than him. In turn, she faces chronic problems of her own, including an abusive childhood and a drunken, raucous and abusive Vietnam veteran husband. The rest of the movie essentially revolves about Silk’s tumultuous and scandalous present life, and a disturbing past, which harbours a dark secret. I won’t give it away for those of you who haven’t watched it, but let it suffice here to say that he is running away from a stain which was inflicted on him many years back, as a young man in love, and an expert boxer. Silk’s life long attempts to hide that old stain ironically have landed him into another disturbed existence.
I thought that the movie itself failed to be very interesting, although the director seems to have made sincere attempts to keep the intrigue and philosophy flowing. The one thing that shines through are the performances by Hopkins, Sinise and Kidman. The Human Stain makes an interesting foray into the inevitabilities of life. If we hide from a truth, it’s very likely that another will haunt us, just like it haunted Silk. Better than that to face the truth and fight for it. But the problem is still not resolved. Society still has to inure itself to many blatant and supposedly embarrassing eventualities in it’s citizens’ lives. We still have to come to terms with the ugly ducklings among us, moralizing and generous as our expressed views and opinions about them may be. Society itself has a long way to go before it becomes all-accommodating. The most penetrating stains, it seems, are the ones which cannot be seen.