THE HUMAN STAIN
movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Curt from www.moviepooper.com who says... "Now I think I finally understand addiction. I really just thought of movie spoilers as a hobby; a pleasant diversion from the cares of a demanding career. Little did I suspect that I'm hooked. All it took was seeing THE HUMAN STAIN's tag line: "Don't give away the secret of the year's most acclaimed mystery," and I was in line for a ticket. It's like leaving your alcoholic uncle alone in the house with the departing words, "Eddie, don't go in the basement. That's where I've hidden the beer." Bad idea. Well, anyway, on to the spoiler!
In the opening scene, we see Anthony Hopkins driving through some quiet country roads, with a peacefully-sleeping Nicole Kidman resting her head on his shoulder. It's obvious that these two are at peace with each other and the world. As the car approaches a river, a red pick-up truck moves toward them and crosses over into their lane. In a panic, Hopkins drives the car off the road, where it lands in the frozen river, wheels up.
Cut to what is obviously an earlier event, as we are introduced to Coleman Silk (Hopkins), a Professor of Classics and the first Jewish Dean of Athena College (Classics 101 alert! Just hang on, we'll try to tie this all up at the end). It's 1998, and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is the main topic of discussion on campus (also relevant to the "Classics" theme). Coleman is teaching his seminar in the Classics, and becomes annoyed at the continued absence of two alleged students. It's the fifth week of the semester, and the pair has never bothered to attend class. He posts a hypothetical question to the rest of the class: "Are they real, or are they spooks?"
Clearly, this is the wrong question to ask. As a matter of fact, the two AWOL students are African American. The question, with its possible racist interpretation, so distresses the female of the pair (never shown on screen), and the climate of political correctness is so rampant on the campus, that Coleman loses his job over the event. He returns home, tells his wife Iris (Anna Deavere Smith) about it, and starts preparing to file a lawsuit. Iris, however, doesn't take the news so well. She suffers a massive embolism and dies in his arms.
We next see Coleman shortly afterward, looking up the reclusive author Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise). Coleman wants Nathan to write a book about how the College murdered his wife.
Nathan declines the offer, so Coleman starts writing it himself. The two men become friends, and as they start to share stories, Coleman tells about his first love. Flash back to 1948, and we see a young Coleman (Wentworth Miller) meeting and becoming intimate with Steena Paulsson (Jacinda Barrett).
Back in 1998, Coleman arrives at the post office just as it is closing, but convinces Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) to let him in to buy stamps for a birthday card to his sister. He drives off, but later comes upon Faunia, now stranded by the side of the road where her car has broken down.
He offers her a lift, and as he drives her to the dairy farm where she lives and holds down a second job, she reveals that she knows who he is because she also works as a custodian at the College. When he asks why she keeps so busy, she replies "Action is the enemy of thought," tells him "I'm a crow" (Classics note time again), and invites him up to her room. He declines, and starts to drive away, but is quite attracted to her. He goes up to her room, and finds her lying nude on her bed. The two begin an intense physical relationship, and she demands that there be no emotional involvement.
One night, she hears a sound, and tells Coleman that she suspects that her ex-husband Les (Ed Harris) is coming around to cause trouble. Cut to Les being interviewed by what is obviously a court-ordered phychiatrist, and telling her that he consider Faunia to be a murderer for her negligence in the deaths of their children. (At this point in the movie, it is impossible to tell when this interview is taking place.)
One night, Coleman takes Faunia to dinner to meet Nathan. She hates the idea, as it involves emotional entanglements and all that they represent. She storms out. Coleman chases her, and the two make up. Later that night, as the two are in bed, Les arrives in his red truck. Yes, it's clearly the one that ran them off the road in the opening scene. Later, Faunia tells him how the children died, and tries to convince him to leave her. He stubbornly sticks by, and we can see that he's breaking the rules by becoming emotionally attached.
Flash back to 1944, when young Coleman is a promising boxer. 'Doc' Chizner is his manager, and thinks that he'll be able to get Coleman an athletic scholarship to Pitt. That is, on one condition: he can't tell the people interviewing him that he's colored, but he should pretend to be Jewish. WHAAAT? Coleman returns home to his obviously African American family, where he suffers a lecture from his father about how he WILL NOT be a boxer. That night, Coleman's father, a porter for the railroad, drops dead on the job. Later, Coleman enlists in the Navy, and check the box saying "White" under "Race." The long deception begins. Flash to 1948 again, and young Coleman is taking Steena to meet his mother. He hasn't told her about his race, and she can't cope with the news. The two of them break up.
Back in 1998, Faunia breaks her own rule, and spends the night at Coleman's house. She awakes the next morning with a look on her face like a wolf in a trap. She freaks out, destroys several items in Coleman's kitchen, and takes off. She spends most of the day talking with a caged crow at the nature preserve, where it's implied that she's spent a lot of time in the past. Coleman returns home that night to find that Faunia has cleaned up the kitchen and brought him a box of donuts (apparently, the full extent of her cooking capabilities). He says that he has something important to tell her, and the screen fades to black. In the next scene, it's nearly dawn, and he's driving her home. This is a repeat of the opening scene, and we learn that both Coleman and Faunia died when the car went into the river. We see that the scene of Les being interviewed fits right here, and we hear a few more questions and answers. Even though Les confesses to killing the pair, the psychiatrist labels him as delusional and concludes that the car crash was an accident.
At Coleman's (Jewish) funeral, Nathan approaches the African American woman whom he thinks is the wife of the College regent who gave the eulogy. He discovers, much to his shock, that she's actually Coleman's sister Ernestine (Lizan Mitchell), who had been out of contact with her brother for many years. She was trying to return the favor of a birthday call, only to arrive the day after his death. As Nathan and Ernestine talk, they realize that Coleman was so deeply entrenched in his lie that he couldn't even conceive of using the truth to save his career.
Flash back to ~nineteen fifty-something, and young Coleman is telling his mother that he's engaged to Iris. He hasn't told her about his heritage, and has said that his parents are dead. His mother points out the irony of the situation that Coleman is creating for himself: he looks like he's white, but will have to live as a slave for the rest of his life. As he walks out the door, she calls him a murderer.
Flash again to 1998, but the night before Coleman and Faunia are killed. He tells her the whole story, the one that he couldn't even tell his wife. The two realize that they need and love each other, and finally form a legitimate emotional bond.
Flash to the days after the funeral. Nathan is writing a book about Coleman, entitled The Human Stain. He spots Les' truck on the lakeshore, and stops to interview Les as he fishes through the ice. The two men talk about nothing particularly deep, but the whole time, crows are cawing in the background. Nathan leaves the interview convinced of Les' guilt.
Are you ready for the Classics lesson yet? In Greek mythology, the Goddess Athena hid the monster-child Erichthonius, created when Hephaestus, in his lust, spilled his seed on the ground (Gaia). When Erichthonius is eventually revealed to the world, three women kill themselves. A crow brings this news to Athena, and for being the bearer of bad tidings, she turned crows from white to black. The Human Stain gives us a new twist on the story. Athena (the college) is the refuge of the self-created "monster" (Coleman) until Bill Clinton, in his lust, spills his seed on Monica Lewinsky's dress, thus creating a climate of Political Correctness so severe that it forces Coleman out of his hiding place. The crow stuff is probably too deep for me, but I'd guess that because Faunia is already a crow, and Coleman is already black, they make pretty good soulmates. It is only after he tells her about his background that the two become truly intimate. They are killed almost immediately afterward. (mythology info lifted from this - http://www.geocities.com/medea19777/athena.html - web page about Athena).