Beatriz At Dinner (2017 USA)

Gathering characters around a table is always a good pretext for serving up something tasty for a hungry cinema audience. The moral spectrum here is far too nuanced to allow a single clear position. It’s a diagnosis without a prescription. For one thing, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) is no Donald Trump. He’s far smarter, knowledgeable, more gracious, disciplined, self-aware, more honest — in fact, the character here who is the most at peace with himself. The three wives are uniformly hard, brittle, constantly on guard to sustain their marital and social status. Of the three wealthy couples only Doug is secure enough within himself and confident in his dealings with the others. The men live on his approval, so the wives must too.

Indeed, Strutt’s last words to Beatriz are a plausible strategy for dealing with our dying world: enjoy while we can. But enjoyment is not one of Beatriz’s options. As a healer she feels others’ pains too deeply, not just her patients’ but the animals’, the planet’s, the disintegrating universe. The film does not let us comfortably side with Beatriz. How seriously do we take her goats? Her range of putative sciences feels too close to satire. Her “moral stand” at the dinner rings as futile as the developers’ self-justifications, especially seeing as it’s fuelled by an unaccustomed intake of wine and a joint. Her idealism is as intrusive and self-displaying as the other class’s vulgarity. Oddly, too, Beatriz is played without Selma Hayek’s usual beauty.

The shots that emphasize her large rear end bring her down to the wives’ sad, flawed mortality. She does make one strong point. Fixing is harder than breaking. The strutting Strutts are wreaking great damage upon the planet, whether the single killed rhino or the multitude of destroyed birds — and the human lives the bulldozing developers envelope and ruin. The latter includes the “partners” here so generously rewarded for their submission and fear. Nature if not the abused underclass will take its revenge. But does Beatriz? The film provides two conclusions to this dinner party. The first confirms Beatriz’s fantasy of revenge. She fatally stabs Doug Strutt– in her dramatic but inconsequential sacrifice to reduce what she sees as the rampant evil in this world. She even blames Strutt for her goat’s death. Of course one villain less won’t really matter. She’s willing to suffer the serious consequences.

In the second version she drops the letter opener, lets Strutt live and — broken by her failed resolve — walks out to her ocean death. The last image recalls her memory of paddling over the waters, here towards a new dawn. She earlier expressed her belief we have multiple lives, in which we can confront again the people with whom we have unresolved differences. So her belief makes even her suicide happier than her ridding the world of Strutt. The alternative ending requires us to choose which we prefer. Do we opt for the murderous revolution? Or the destructive futility of the idealist? Either position seems emblematical by the flaming lanterns floating up into the night, a beautiful but empty and ineffectual stab at the immutable darkness. Of course, the lanterns are extremely dangerous, indeed illegal, but the lawyer promises to save the host and the boss from any criminal charges. As usual.

Some bit players reflect on the main ones. The host’s daughter, Tara, reveals a fragile, troubled, boyish girl, who finds a connection in Beatriz she can’t make with her parents. She overcame her cancer. Cancer is what Beatriz charges Strutt and bis cronies with being to the world. Struggling to find something positive about the maverick Tara, one woman compliments her eyes. The daughter sees more than the family and their friends realize. Then there are the three servants. The young man presiding over the event falls short on the grace, good looks and suave he’s hired to display. He’s not supposed to interrupt a guest to announce dinner. He embodies the hosts’ pretense and strain. The cook is a matronly white woman, controlling her realm. The hosts’ Mexican servant quietly suffers her work but shows an instinctive sympathy for Beatriz. “So how did it go, the dinner?” she asks. She represents the seething underclass Beatriz predicts won’t stay submissive. Even if she does — or doesn’t.

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Comments

  1. This film sounds intriguing, I’m definitely going to check this one out thanks to your review! It sounds very thought provoking, plus Chloë Sevigny’s in it so I’m excited (she’s always a solid actress).

    This film sounds like it’s in a similar vein to Roman Polanski’s ‘Carnage’ – one of my fave films. Would you consider reviewing it down the track perhaps? 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. Thanks for the “Carnage” suggestion. I’ll definitely review it!

    Like

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