Life Itself will leave you crying in the worse way. I’m talking gasping for air, with a burning throat, for the devastation is too much.
|Screenplay By||Dan Fogelman|
|Good If You Like||Tragedy after tragedy|
Stories Which Are Split Into Chapters and Featuring Changing Lead Actors
|Dr. Morris||Annette Bening|
|Younger Dylan||Kya Kruse|
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Told in 5 chapters, Life Itself presents the journeys it took for one person to come into existence. The tragedy of a woman losing her parents. A man losing the love of his life. Death seeming far too consistent and then, in one generation, it ends. Be it by intentional effort or an extraterritorial power, it is like a rest button got hit. Leaving us with a narrator who knows there is tragedy in their family’s past, but whether speaking about Will and Abby, Javier, Isabel, and Vincent, or Rodrigo and Dylan, they are reminded it isn’t all funerals and tears. For Life Itself, perhaps the only true and reliable narrator, depending on how you look at it, never allows a story to stay the same for long.
It Knows How To Build You Up & Knock You Down
Pretty much every other chapter is about building up a story. Chapter 1: The Hero & Chapter 3: The Gonzalez Family, are about laying down a foundation. In a way, it is like the show Skins. The first half is all about the fun times in which we watch as Will and Abby fall in love, or us understand their love based off how someone tries to write it, before the next chapter hits and you’re left devastated. The same thing happens in Chapter 3, which is a bit bloated, but that makes Chapter 4 & 5 such tear jerkers.
To bring up a specific example, Chapter 3: The Gonzalez Family, gives you the complete story of Isabel and Javier in a way Chapter 1 doesn’t with Abby and Will. For the theme of the movie having unreliable narration also takes the form of having inconsistent narration as well. The rush we get from the drama and shocking moments of Chapter 1 gets matched by the slow burn of Chapter 3 which leads to the sound as the fire burns and crackles until there is nothing but a wrath of smoke. Or, to put it in a less convoluted way, Fogelman stretches his writing muscles to show two ways to write a tragedy and have both ways work.
The Love Stories
It should be noted, none of the love stories are perfect and while they can make you swoon, you are given the flaws to recognize these stories aren’t meant to be fairy tales. Chapter 1 has a relationship which constantly shifts from being something beautiful to something which seems possibly toxic. Then, in chapter 3, as cute as the story is, there is also the question of whether people are settling. Whether they are truly right for one another and can work when it isn’t all smiles, giggles, and sweet nothings.
And one of the things I appreciate the most from each chapter’s romance is the establishment of how love is just as much capable of being a poison as a medicine. Love is what brought Dylan out of maybe spending the rest of her life miserable. Yet, at the same time, love drove Will’s mind to extremes.
Which is perhaps why you may find yourself crying so much from chapter 2 on. It’s not just because of the investment, but as you begin to imagine yourself in any or all of the situations, your mind is brought to a point where you’re having a psychosomatic moment. One in which you find yourself crying and feeling like someone perhaps having a panic attack. Well, maybe not that far, but sitting in a theater, taking in all this pain, it will force you to either address your own or take in the pain on screen and cry simply to cleanse yourself.
There Is No Bad Part
Whether big or small, nearly every actor, every chapter, will get a reaction out of you. Excuse me if it may sound like I’m repeating bits and pieces, but chapter 1 it will be Oscar Isaac as he deals with recounting his relationship with Abby, chapter two it will be both Dylans relationship with their grandpa Irwin, the romance between Isabel and Javier maybe slow in chapter 3, but it’s a recovery from the tumultuous first two chapters. Then with chapter 4, Monner helps bring a balance to what we got in the first chapter and the third, and then Elena wraps things up by using all we saw to deliver one final blow. Making it so having a dry eye is impossible
Chapters 1 & 2
I feel like most will feel these two are the stronger chapters because of the pacing and tone. Perhaps because it has a certain familiarity, even as Will and Dr. Morris play up this unreliable narrative idea. For some, I believe they may believe the style presented in these chapters should have permeated throughout the whole movie. Maybe have been a representative for the movie – never mind the rest. Especially taking note of how Will steps into a memory, taking note he doesn’t know full details and keeps shifting the memory as Dr. Morris tries to break through to him.
On The Fence
Chapter 3 Feels Like a D.R.A.G — Drag
There will come a point while watching Javier, Isabel and Vincent interacting that you will want to check your phone. After how dramatic the first two chapters are, it’s like speeding on the highway then entering a school zone with road bumps. Anytime you think the chapter may speed up, it slows down to develop one relationship or another, if not build up to one of Javier’s decisions. Luckily, things pick up in chapter 4, which feels short in comparison, and 5 is a breeze, but chapter 3 might test your patience.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing) | Purchase Or Rent On (Fandango/ Amazon)
Chapter 3 is the main reason I am not putting a recommendation tag on this. For, as much as I love how deeply this movie dug into my psyche and emotions, chapter 3 felt like a way too long resting period. It threw off the pacing and felt like a completely different movie. Yet, once connections to the first two chapters were made, and we got into chapter 4 with Rodrigo, things picked up and I was back in my feelings.
Leading to why the positive label. Even with the dig on chapter 3, as you recollect what happened, you realized this was all about showing you not just the power of love but also the importance of the storyteller. For whether it is like in Chapter 1 when you revise the story to fit your need, or chapter 3 which has the story made plain and simple, there is more than one way, beyond two, to present what led to two people coming together and irrevocably changing their lives, and maybe a third person’s, forever.
And through the methods Fogelman uses and these actors perform, you will gain a new respect for the power of love and part of that respect will stem from fear. For as beautiful as it is, it is also destructive and will make you willing to sacrifice it all. Sometimes because you can’t deal with life without it or because you want to preserve it and know that sometimes means walking away.