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The Life Before Her Eyes

Life can change in an instant

Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) is relishing the waning days of her senior year in high school indulging in drugs, sex, and whatever else she can get her hands on to escape the boredom and monotony of her small town existence. Life has yet to begin…or so Diana thinks. In an instant, a tragedy changes Diana’s life completely.

15 years later, Diana (now played by Uma Thurman) is a haunted woman who is constantly reminded of the tragedy that took place years ago and seemingly claimed the life of her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri). The Life Before Her Eyes seems uncertain and unstable despite the fact that Diana is now married, has a loving husband, and a young daughter (who seems as rebellious and impetuous as she was).

In The Life Before Her Eyes, director Vadim Perelman (The House of Sand and Fog) deftly cuts between the life Diana led when she was in high school and her current existence. The thread that keeps these two seemingly disparate lives connected is the Columbine-like event that transpired 15 years ago. Initially, it appears that Diana lost her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) and the demons that haunt her today stem from this incident. But, in short order it becomes clear things are bit murkier than that.

Perelman weaves a narrative that is intentionally disjointed and fragmented. We get bits and pieces of Diana’s younger life interwoven with her current existence which leads you to hypothesize a few different "possible" scenarios for how Diana ended up where she is today, but Perelman never really allows you to hold onto any of these hypotheses with any real confidence.

Setting the story aside for a minute, the critical roles of the younger and older Diana ask a lot of the actors playing these roles. Fortunately, Perelman chose wisely in getting Evan Rachel Wood to play the former and Uma Thurman to play the latter. Evan Rachel Wood turned in a powerful and convincing performance as a "girl gone wild" in Thirteen a few years ago. She brings a similarly powerful, nuanced, and emotional performance to The Life Before Her Eyes.

Wood’s Diana is mature and wise beyond her years, but admittedly a bit self-destructive and damaged. Raised by a single mother (the father’s fate is unclear), Diana is hyper-sexualized and seems to seek sexual gratification as a way to receive male approval. Diana is a complex character that few actors could manage well. Wood nails it.

Complementing Evan Rachel Wood’s performance is Uma Thurman’s turn as the older Diana. The current incarnation of Diana seems a far cry from the devil may care younger Diana. Today, Diana is anxious, high strung, and leads a life that seems so different from the one she talked about in high school. One could argue the life she leads resembles the very provincial, familial kind of existence her best friend Maureen would have led had she survived the tragedy 15 years ago. Is this the life Diana really wants or is this some kind of penance?

It’s these kinds of questions that make The Life Before Her Eyes compelling. You know something terrible happened to Diana, but Perelman keeps you guessing about exactly what this was for the majority of the film. This creative construction of the narrative and the excellent performances from Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood result in one of the most creative and compelling thrillers in quite some time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars