The Human Stain

A single word brings his happy little facade to the ground: “Spooks”. A word that, to many, means ‘ghosts’ or ‘apparitions’, but to some means something far graver: a racial slur. The irony of the situation is apparent only to Silk as his little ‘slip of the tongue’ leads to the downfall of not only his career, but the respect and camaraderie of his peers as well. His closest friends turn their backs, his wife passes away, and his children barely even speak to him. He is left with no one and nothing, except his tragic secret. And then he meets Faunia.

Faunia is Silk’s lover. His refuge. His ingenue. Faunia, played by Nicole Kidman, is a reflection of Silk in another world. She is white, but ashamed of herself, her past and her present. Silk loves her because she carries the same burdens as he does, manifest in different ways. A troubled past with her ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) and the fatal deaths of their children haunts her as does her own tragic childhood, full of abuse at the hands of her step-father. All of this makes it hard for Faunia to trust Silk, or anyone for that matter, but she is intrigued by him and the secrets he tries to hide from her. The two find solace and some amount of peace in each other, but with such tumultuous pasts, tragedy strikes in droves.

‘The Human Stain’ looks like a formula Oscar contender. Based on a bestselling novel. A cast full of past Oscar favorites and a convenient fall release. Director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) is a six-time Oscar nominee and a two-time winner, Hopkins has been nominated four times and holds a statue for ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Kidman just picked up her first, last year, after two nominations, and Harris, well, Harris is a non-winner, but practically a shoe-in for a nomination each year. Even Gary Sinise, who has a small role as Coleman Silk’s friend and the narrator of the story, was nominated for ‘Forrest Gump’ back in 1995.

All this is fine and dandy, but The Stain is a far cry from a crowd-pleaser. It’s nothing if not a gritty, almost dirty film, reminiscent of 2001’s Monster’s Ball. Silk pops Viagra like candy to keep up with Faunia during their wild sex romps and I have a permanent image of Anthony Hopkin’s naked ass burnt in my head. Kidman’s character curses like a fleet of sailors and there is a touchy side story involving Lester’s post-Vietnam psychosis (for which Harris might finally win that Oscar). And don’t forget the main theme of the film either; edgy questions revolving around race and prejudice are prevalent throughout.

The story, while interesting, failed to really enthrall me; the characters are harsh and hard to like at times and several scenes just ooze sappy ‘roll-your-eyes’ sentiment. While the controversiality of the subject matter could help pique interest in the film, it certainly does not qualify it as a ‘feel-good movie of the year’ contestant. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to its translation to the screen and, given the depth of the cast involved, I will be shocked if ‘The Human Stain’ doesn’t grab a handful of Oscar nominations come next spring.

Rating: B