February 13, 2013

‘Beautiful Creatures’ explores life’s choices

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships, Spirituality at 11:55 pm by dinaheng

“Beautiful Creatures” may look like a film for teenagers — yes, it’s based on a best-selling series aimed at teenage girls — but the story has so many wonderful things to say about life, your brain would have to be dead not to appreciate it.

The film, which opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day, February 14, is set in fictional Gatlin, S.C., a small conservative Southern town where 17-year-old Ethan Wate (played by Alden Ehrenreich) has recurring dreams about an unseen girl on a Civil War battlefield and the danger that awaits them both. Dinah Eng

When Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the enigmatic niece of powerful recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), shows up at school, Ethan is smitten. What unfolds between them is a tale of past and present, love and fear, and the battle to determine one’s own destiny.

“For me, the teenage years are the bridge between childhood and adulthood,” says Oscar® nominee Richard LaGravenese, who wrote and directed the screenplay adaptation of the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. “It’s a period of transition, hormones, questions, and desires, but you’re not able to realize them yet because you’re confined to high school and family. Our two characters are teenagers who are pushed into adulthood sooner.”

In the film, Ethan has to take care of the house and family because his mother has died, and his father has withdrawn from life. Lena is a supernatural being called a Caster (whom some might call witches), approaching her 16th birthday, when she will be claimed by the forces of the Light or the Dark.

“The more I wrote and was shooting, it became clear that the movie is about the strength of humans,” says LaGravenese, whose writing credits include “The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” and “P.S. I Love You.” “We, who are powerless in the face of chaotic elements, have the power of empathy and compassion. And we get in touch with our strength when there’s a crisis.

“A lot of our modern life is about comfort, and as technology gets more powerful, our brains are activated less and less. If there’s such a thing as superpowers, we have more that we can access than we realize. I’ve experienced what I consider miracles. It’s about perceiving beyond the norm and accessing the part of the brain that sees beyond what we normally see.”

Most of the folks in Gatlin are frightened by what they don’t normally see and understand. Their reaction to Lena and what they perceive as dark powers results in a church meeting to cast out the evil girl within their midst.

“Part of being human is fear of the unknown and the things we can’t control,” the director notes. “The more we can accept what we don’t know, the more we can accept the spiritual experience. The Latin root derivative of ‘religion’ is to ‘bind back.’ We once needed certain rules and laws, but as our consciousness evolved as human beings, people still maintained literal interpretations of the rules, so you get fanaticism and literal interpretations of laws that don’t apply to our current life.

“I have no tolerance for intolerance, and was a devout Catholic growing up. I think the sacrifice in this film is a Christian principle. If anyone takes umbrage at that, it’s intolerance about something they don’t understand. Spirituality is about being able to live within the mystery of what we don’t know.”

The mystery involving mortals and Casters in Gatlin is known by Amma (played by Viola Davis), the town’s librarian and a seer with connection to both worlds.

“Viola is a great actress who plays a loving, wise character who’s been set with a burden she inherits from her ancestors, and does it with acceptance,” LaGravenese explains. “She’s a surrogate mother to Ethan, and is a bridge between the real world and the supernatural.”

Davis, an award-winning actress best known for her performances in “Doubt” and “The Help,” says she chose to do the role because Amma is a complex, layered character.

(L -r) VIOLA DAVIS as Amma, ALICE ENGLERT as Lena Duchannes and ALDEN EHRENREICH as Ethan Wate in Alcon Entertainment's supernatural love story “BEAUTIFUL CREATURES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L -r) VIOLA DAVIS as Amma, ALICE ENGLERT as Lena Duchannes and ALDEN EHRENREICH as Ethan Wate in Alcon Entertainment’s supernatural love story “BEAUTIFUL CREATURES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.  Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

“She’s the keeper of secrets,” Davis says. “She’s a keeper of history and a channeler. At the same time, she promised a woman who’s passed that she’d care for her son Ethan. I hope audiences are entertained, and on a deeper level, I hope they get the message that you claim your future and your path. Your future isn’t decided for you. You choose it.”

Davis says teenagers are often in turmoil because they’re in a period of self-discovery when family members don’t always understand their angst. The dysfunctional family dynamics in Gatlin can be found anywhere, she notes, as well as the prejudice in its townspeople.

“I grew up in a small town named Central Falls in Rhode Island,” Davis recalls, “and I didn’t see anything unique about it. So I loved that the writers imagined this gateway to another world underneath Gatlin, a small, provincial town.

“Central Falls was filled with some of the best memories, and friendships I still have. I moved there in 1965, when I was a baby, and we were the only black family in town, so my family was ostracized. Wanting to fit in and still maintain my own individuality was a physical and a spiritual fight.”

The actress says the biggest fight we all wage is the battle against rigid mindsets and behaviors that have been passed down to us.
“I did a lot of research, in terms of my African-American ancestry and the Civil War, Post-Reconstruction, and who we were before that,” Davis says. “I was born on Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, S.C., and I believe in the supernatural because that was how I was raised.

“You believed in witches who visited you in your sleep. You couldn’t sweep over your father’s feet because it meant he’d go to jail. To this day, it’s inherent in my psyche. I believe in the spiritual realm. I want to believe I have a way to connect with my father and other loved ones who have passed on. I’m also a woman who prays.”

For a supernatural tale filled with allegories and wisdom about our times, go see this film. It will remind you that no matter how much fear we hold inside us, human beings still have the capacity to be beautiful creatures.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.


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