Starring: Nicole Kidman, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris
Director: Robert Benton
There are many interesting themes in The Human Stain but whether it dramatises them all effectively, sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Novelist Philip Roth is best known for such novels as Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, both filmed with a young Richard Benjamin in 1969 and 1973.
The Human Stain was written in the late 1990s, at the time of the scandal of President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (to which there are many references and questions about truth, society and government). In fact, the basic theme of the film is truth.
Coleman Silk went to university in the early 1940s, a young man from a black family who not only passed for white but chose to separate himself from his family and pass for Jewish.
Wentworth Miller is very good as the young Silk. The older Silk is played by Anthony Hopkins with a mixture of anger, resentment and wistfulness. The film intercuts between the 1990s and the 1940s.
Silk has become the victim of academic ‘political correctness’ applied rigidly, but he also becomes the victim of his emotions as he begins an affair with a strange young woman, a janitor at the university who has a history of family abuse. They begin to depend on each other, with fatal consequences.
The woman is not immediately recognisable as Nicole Kidman (except for her height).
Criticised as too glamorous for Cold Mountain, she is not criticised as not being credible as a janitor. However, she does given an interesting performance.
In the background are Ed Harris as Kidman’s insane husband and Gary Sinise as the sympathetic novelist whom Hopkins befriends. It is he who tells the story.
The story is one of hopes and disappointments, masks and lies, of a chance at a last love.
Christians may think of original sin as the human stain. Roth, whose background is Jewish, is quoted as agreeing with this.
Everyone puts their mark on the world, and each in their own way, adds a human stain.