The Unbearable Lightness of Being Movie Review

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When I first watched The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I was dating a poet who had read and loved the book. Not wanting to involve myself in reading the book at that point, I rented the movie instead. I loved it then and I love it now, but, at this point in time, I can compare it to the novel by Milan Kundera. The two are both vastly similar and vastly different. As an adaptation, it succeeds in transcribing the events of the novel, but does not do as well in successfully demonstrating its points.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being focuses on Tomas (Daniel-Day Lewis), a Don Juanist terrified of commitment and a surgeon at a Prague hospital. He is trapped between his platonic and semi-erotic love of Teresa (Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche), a photographer and his wife and a erotic and semi-platonic love of Sabina (Lena Olin), a painter and his mistress.

Teresa is haunted by terrible nightmares and suicidal urges brought on by a love of Tomas clashing with a hatred of his "lightness" or the ability to view sex as entertainment and not commitment. Sabina, on the other hand, is having to deal with her very first tinges of jealousy as the only man she may have ever truly loved is now obviously in love with another woman.

As a necessary subtext, this occurs at the same time as the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union.

This is where the book and the movie, a perfect joined atom before, begin their fission. In the book, a major point was a philosophical protest to the occupation of Czechoslovakia, to the point where the book devotes some one hundred pages entirely on this subject. In the movie, it is a subtext and a backdrop. The few times that it does appear, it does a cameo.

Those cameos, on the other hand, are so powerful in their own respects that they would be academy-award cameos. One such is a magnificent black and white re-creation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which is packed with all of the emotional content that the one hundred pages of the book could muster and more. Kudos to Sven Nykvist, the cinematographer of the film.

Following the invasion, Sabina, Tomas, and Teresa emigrate to Geneva, Switzerland, where they end up in the same predicament that they were in at the beginning of the film.

Returning to the part of the story that the film harks on, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is successfully able to ponder: polygamy or monogamy? It also, despite numerous sex scenes and adulterous encounters, paints more poignantly than any other film the damage that Tomas' "lightness of being" (polygamy) does to a faithful person.

Teresa loves Tomas enough, however, not to try to change him. Instead, she herself attempts to experience this "lightness of being", trying modeling for nude photographs by and taking nude photographs of Sabina and a very unsuccessful adultery with an Engineer.

Teresa is unable, of course, to feel this lightness, and instead is only faced with an increasing sadness as she fails again and again. The sadness is perfectly transmitted to the screen thanks to Juliette Binoche's performance. She was, is, and forever will be one of the actresses that does good in any role.

This is not a date movie. The question laid unto the viewer is too heavy for a couple in the early stages of their relationship to ponder. Nor is it what the other critics say: "The most openly sexual American film in ages" (Rolling Stone). Sex was used to advertise it, and, although it plays a major role, the movie and the book are both about love, not sex.

As far as the adaptation goes on other methods, there are several things left out. Teresa's family, mentioned extensively in the book, is brought up only once in the movie. Sabina's affair with a man named Franz is a quick event in the movie, but a major plot of the book. Also, the desire to protest towards freedom is more focused on in the novel.

This is a movie for those few willing to accept the challenge of an intellectually stimulating film with a long running time, difficult philosophical questions, literary references, and political means and motives. If you can deal with that, which I know is a lot to ask, then please pick it up. Please enjoy this film. And, should you enjoy the film, please read the book.

Neither will disappoint.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 1988


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