The Human Stain is a lot more than just the worst movie of the year. This film also represents a whole aesthetic that panders to people who think they’re smarter than they really are, glossing thinly cohesive motifs with pseudo-intellectualisms. To the careful viewer though, this gloss is a smarmy, condescending approach that completely negates the glue of true art — sincerity.
The film’s initial stench can be traced to the aging author, Philip Roth. He was a young man who, after growing up, wanted to write something fun.
Raunchy sex was his cure-all, as exemplified in Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), about a boy (much like a young Roth) who masturbates with a piece of liver.
Roth is one of those guys who shoot to the other extreme when confronted with traditional morality but he comes off as an awkward imitator of America’s original sexploiter, Henry Miller.
Stain tries to be modern by showing the climax at the beginning of the movie. This method of storytelling originated with James Joyce and Virginia Woolf in the early 20th century as a new and effective way to psychoanalyze multiple meanings of characters. But the only reason evident for this method in this movie was to veil the predictability of an already anticlimactic story.
What’s more awkward is the romance between infamous local professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) and the university’s cleaning lady Faunia Farely (Nicole Kidman). When you see Hopkins (age 66) with Kidman, who’s half his age, you wonder how this could have ever happened. The intimacy between the two is like a parallel universe created by the lasciviously aging mind of Roth.
Here’s how a guy like Coleman and a gal like Faunia get along in the world of Stain: Faunia has car trouble; Coleman courteously gives her a lift home; Faunia says, “I don’t do sympathy,” while inviting Coleman in for sex. We’re supposed to believe this because Kidman plays a progressive, tragically hip woman who’s so cool with sexual affairs that she’s not very discriminating. The intended moral lies within the life of Coleman, a classics professor who loses his position and, subsequently, his wife due to a socio-politically insensitive word.
The action of Stain takes place in the time of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, which the movie gratuitously parallels with Coleman’s choices. However, it’s a fairly inconsistent motif intended to comment on the tyranny of political correctness.
Roth’s idea is to end his trilogy of books that mirrors the lives of two previous presidents (Nixon and Eisenhower) in earlier books. The author’s presidential theme is weak since Stain is an isolated movie, in and of itself.
Flashbacks are used to highlight Coleman’s life as a young man, yet another tired method in storytelling. As an adolescent, it’s the same story: Coleman likes it when girls do a striptease number for him. Curiously, when Faunia strips for him when he is older (grossly set to contemporary jazz, yuppie style) she playfully argues, “You don’t love me. You just like the sex.” Is that why an attractive 34-year-old woman hooks up with an elderly guy? Roth, who’s over 70, seems to like that idea.
The proposed payoff in this movie is also very unsatisfying.
The movie is not successful in outlining what’s disturbing about racism (featured in Coleman’s identity crisis) or political correctness, but seems self-satisfied in its awkward treatment of storytelling methods and abused women.
Between Gary Sinise’s narration and the still bizarre glorification of Viagra, who knew that such a horrible movie could be so smug?