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An Unfinished Life (2005)

"Before viewing" talks introduce the film without spoilers. Watch it, then click on the "After viewing" talk for more. More»» by Randy Heffner

Why the film is worth your time

An Unfinished Life is rich with diversity of relational contexts and emotional perspectives. In its exploration of forgiveness and responsibility, one central conflict is echoed and reflected in multiple secondary conflicts, each developing and commenting on the other. There is a dominant and well-played metaphor that runs the length of the film, but beyond this An Unfinished Life is deep in metaphors and allusions, there to reward those that seek to take the film to heart. That said, its primary stock-in-trade is steadily played, well developed characters and relationships. Some will think the film’s pace to be slow, but I find the pace to be precisely set to give us time to deeply feel the moments and relationships. The acting is strong all around — particularly notable is 15 year-old Becca Gardner — as is the directing and camera work.

Critics are generally unkind to An Unfinished Life, but mostly this is due to the typical critic’s tendency to discredit a film if its story or the issues it explores are not unique enough or if the film has any degree of predictability. Although the film’s story and exploration do have unique elements, its strength is not in its uniqueness but in the depth and beauty of its portrayal, which rings true and deep.

As we look at bruises on Jean’s face, her boyfriend offers a seemingly heart-felt apology. That is, until she sits there blankly, not knowing what to say, and he storms out of the house. Prodded by her 11 year-old daughter, Griff, they pack a few things and head out of town. As if pushed by fate, they end up in Wyoming at the ranch of Griff’s grandfather, Einar, where neither Einar nor Jean want them to be. Family obligation prevails, and Einar agrees to let them stay for a few weeks while Jean saves enough to move on. Thrown together again, Jean and Einar face an unresolved past. Aware of each other for the first time, Griff and Einar face an unexpected future. In the mix is Einar’s recently crippled, elderly ranch hand, Mitch. The conflicts and the pain are real as they each struggle to gain forward motion. Running time: 108 min.

Some domestic abuse, some fist fighting. One scene where sex is implied but not shown. Some language.

  • Director: Lasse Hallström
  • Screenplay: Mark Spragg and Virginia Korus Spragg
  • Leads: Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez, Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, Becca Gardner
  • Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
  • Music: Deborah Lurie


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"After viewing" talks assume that you have seen the film. They will contain spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

How the film enriched and changed me

After watching An Unfinished life, and seeing played out before me its multi-faceted exploration of blaming and forgiveness, I hope I am more senstive to my own hidden issues of blaming. Blaming so insidiously takes root

Read the rest of this entry »

Screenshots and dialog copyright © 2005 by the filmmakers.


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NOTE: It is okay to have spoilers in comments on After viewing talks — no warnings necessary.

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