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:: The Human Stain

The Human Stain is an adaptation of the novel by one of America’s most iconic writers, Philip Roth. Roth’s oft used alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, played by Gary Sinise, is the narrator and observer of the story of Coleman Silk, a light skinned black man who decided in his youth that life would be easier if he passed for white. The fact that he passed himself off as a white Jew somewhat undermines his goals, considering life as an elite intellectual would have been almost as difficult for a Jewish man as a black man in the early 1940’s.

The excellent Wentworth Miller plays Coleman as a young man and Anthony Hopkins takes over when Coleman hits old age, a not very convincing transition. Much has been made of Hopkins miscasting, as well as the implausibility of the flawless skinned Nicole Kidman playing a trailer trash cleaning lady who can do no better than an old man for a lover to save her from her torments. If it’s an obstacle you can get over, and some can’t, there are some lovely moments to be had in the film.

The later part of the film is set in the 1990’s, as Clinton is baring all about his relationship with ‘that woman’ and Coleman Silk is nearing retirement as a venerable professor of literature. During one class he innocently utters a word that is construed as racist. Accused of denigrating the race he is actually a part of, Coleman resigns instead of telling the truth. Abandoned by his old friends and colleagues he beings an affair with Faunia Farley (Kidman), unaware at first of the multitude of tragedies in her past, one of which, in the shape of her menacing ex husband, played with grizzled anger by Ed Harris, refuses to go away.

The Human Stain is part love story, part rumination on identity and political correctness at its most ridiculous, part melodrama. None of these parts are entirely satisfying. There is a lack of passion, a clunkiness in the transitions from past to present, prolonged flashbacks triggered randomly. It is hard to care about these characters and there are sides of them that don’t seem to fit anywhere, Coleman’s boxing, Faunia’s conversation with a crow. For all that Faunia claims to keep herself private, she unloads great chunks of backstory at every opportunity and it is in her quiet moments that Kidman manages to shine.

For all that it is not quite believable, The Human Stain is an intelligent, interesting film that should inspire conversation afterwards, unlike many other Hollywood offerings.