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  • EAPierce13 January 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    The theme of Denial is one that everyone can relate to: Coming to terms with lost love. With raw, unsentimental honesty, Robin Wright Penn portrays Sarah, a live-in nanny employed by a widower and his preteen daughter. Sarah fills her life with cooking, gardening, subtle but effective feats of child-rearing, French lessons on tape, and building a gazebo to use as a classroom for summer school tutoring. She shuns suitors and prefers solitude. Hers is a serene existence.

    But we frequently go back to a time in Sarah's life when she was known as Loon, and Loon is anything but serene. Reckless, whimsical and self-absorbed, Loon tells fanciful lies and craves being the center of attention. But when she gets involved with brooding Michael, she's forced to confront her behavior.

    "You could be so much more," Michael observes, disapproving.

    Theirs is a passionate love, but her thoughtlessness sparks a volatile nature within him that he isn't comfortable with, and it eventually wears him out. In a scene that serves as the crux of the film, Loon finds him at the train station with bag in hand, about to leave. She cajoles him with humor, horseplay and finally tearful begging, promising to change if he'll give her another chance. He doesn't believe her.

    "You're stuck," he says.

    "You don't know everything about me, you know," she replies. Determined to prove it, she steps onto the train, which departs without Michael.

    We eventually learn that it's on this very train that she meets the little girl to whom she becomes a nanny. Finding this niche of responsibility, she leaves the nickname and wild behavior of Loon behind, and years pass.

    Enter Rae Dawn Chong's insightful Julie. A filmmaker, Julie is interested in the hologram technology that Sarah's employer tinkers with, and visits for a weekend. The two women recognize each other. Julie was once on the periphery of Loon's circle of friends, and can't help but notice how different Sarah is from the Loon she remembers. Julie was also aware of Loon's torrid relationship with Michael, and suspects that Sarah's not over him, and is still nursing hope.

    Julie and Sarah exchange polite conversation and share a few memories, avoiding the monolithic subject of Michael. But Julie's presence alone is enough to stir discomfiting memories. Sarah finally does a little fishing, wondering aloud how Michael is, only to learn that he's been involved with someone else. It's news that Julie is hesitant to deliver; she senses Sarah's vulnerability.

    When Julie leaves, Sarah is left to deal with that last blow, realizing she's spent years in a transformation which she finally recognizes was inspired by a desire to become what Michael wanted her to be, while he'd moved on.

    In a tour de force by Wright Penn, Sarah comes to terms with this loss in a fit of such explosive emotion that it's impossible not to be deeply moved. When love's lost, you can curse and sob and tear your hair out, but afterward, you still have to get up off the floor and finish doing the dishes.

    The writing is lyrical and the characters brought to life with mostly wonderful performances. Despite that, Denial is a film that only a very patient and forgiving viewer will appreciate.

    It sorely needs a more linear approach. Moving at a too-ponderous pace, it's nearly ruined by murky composition. It's difficult to tell at first, for example, whether we're seeing Sarah's past or present as the story jumps about in time. The first major scene is the one at the train station. We don't even know that she goes by Loon at this point- just that she and her boyfriend are on the verge of a final breakup. The next scene, subtitled "Years Later," shows Sarah gardening, living her calm life. Next, we see Sarah on a roof posing for a portrait, surrounded by a new set of people calling her Loon. There's nothing to indicate that we're in the past again, except costume changes and a too-brief appearance by Julie. No change in cinematography, no appreciable difference in atmosphere, and very few contextual clues which help that early in the film. I'm pretty observant as movie-watchers go, but it took a second viewing to put the pieces of Denial together and really enjoy it, which shouldn't have been the case for a story like this.

    Another problem: hazily defined relationships. Are Sarah and her employer a couple? It doesn't become truly clear that she's just the nanny in the household until near the end of the film. If this was intentional, it was a mistake that compromises the emotional impact. It should be made clear earlier that Sarah hasn't been romantically involved with anything but her memories of Michael since getting on that train.

    Despite some beautiful narration by Julie, the POV can't decide to be through Julie's eyes or Sarah's. The editing often makes the dialogue seem stilted, and on one occasion just plain nonsensical. The chemistry between the lovers is intense, but Jason Patric's Michael is so whiny and morbid that it makes us wonder why she's enchanted with him to begin with.

    I love Denial and count it among my favorite films, but it's easy to understand why I have so little company in this regard.
  • I wonder if one has to be a certain personality type to really appreciate this movie. It is not at all for those who need fast paced ACTION. If that's your speed, you may not even like this. Very few friends who I've lent this to have liked this.

    I on the other hand LOVE this movie. Robin Wright knows how to grab your heart and twist and pull at it. She is so vulnerable. So pained by her loss.

    Anyone who has ever felt the pain of a lost relationship can't help but relate to the feelings and replaying memories. A reminder from her life THEN sends her into a tailspin of mourning and pain, even though Sarah never really seemed to know Julie well.

    I am an INFP. I would be interested in the personality types of others who love this movie and others by Erin Digman. I think this movie is so different, that it may draw only certain personalities. Those so in touch and sensitive to emotion and the inner workings of their mind.
  • Once upon a time there was a popular comedy team, "Cheech and Chong." Chong had a daughter and named her Rae Dawn. She is beautiful and she plays "Julie" in Erin Dignam's 1991 "Denial," a poignant poem of lost love and obsession.

    There is another beauty in this warm, upbeat movie, and that is Robin Wright, portraying "Sarah." "Sarah," a sometime actress and tall, dark, handsome loner, "Michael" (Jason Patric), are lovers, as they were in real life, pre Sean Penn. "Michael" inhabits the realm of obsessional love with "Sarah becoming his "sickness," as he calls it--or her. "I'm sick" he tells her. "I'll help you" she says. "You are the sickness" he replies.

    They tangle with each other and untangle as they seek each other's warmth without burning up. But they only seem able to push and to pull away from each other. She is loving and playful and has many actor friends. He has no one but her, and his jealousy.

    When he leaves her, she is unable to forget him. He becomes her sickness, her obsession, as is often the case with the lovers we have lost, the ones that still have the power to bestir us. Her past then becomes her present.

    Why does she look back? Perhaps to understand what happened, to know how and why her love was lost. Perhaps because she's imbued by the feelings and memories that love left behind. She craves the intensity and the poignancy of her lost love, the melting sensation in the stomach, the fluttering around the heart.

    "Denial" may suggest that love affairs are imcomprehensible to those not involved, and that love doesn't necessarily have a neat ending. "Denial" doesn't present answers regarding lost love, perhaps indicating that we can only answer to and for ourselves.

    The writer-director, Erin Dignam, is a poet of love, and Robin Wright embodies that poetry by dancing sylphlike through this swirling, dreamy film. Wright is a woman with the mien and voice of a girl, able to evoke the inner world of youthful, passionate love.

    We wonder about "Julie" (Rae Dawn Chong). Is she in love or in awe of "Sarah" or is she just an observer? We find her quietly and thoughtfully watching "Sarah" seemingly with longing, but there is little interaction between them.

    "Denial" lacks nothing in crisp cinematography and excitement, from the train scenes that frame the movie, to the cliff-top, ocean scenes, to the lovely house and grounds where much of the magical action takes place.

    "Denial" is imbued with the haunting piano chords of Harold Budd which complement the songs on the sound-track. It's an intriguing love story without special effects, car chases, "Matrix"-like calisthenics or gunshots to jolt you and "move you to the edge of your seat." There are no heroic death scenes.

    Here are excerpts from Dignam's lyrical script. "Julie" in voiceover:

    "I've always just wanted to leave... Live another life... Start over again... Different... An unknown person... So that what is written on me is with my own hand.

    I didn't know if I'd ever see her ["Sarah"] again But two years later I saw her... in an airport. Again things had changed Again there was little acknowledgement of what we both knew."

    What is it that they "both knew?" Has something gone on between them that we've missed? Is it the acknowledgement" that Sarah is a lightweight, that she's out of touch with reality, a "loon" as her friends call her? "Julie" implies that "Loon" makes things up. "Loon" was an alternate title for the movie.

    Julie continues:

    "Then Sarah opened a book and showed me a poem, And 'wasn't it beautiful?' Sarah said. Apollo stood on the high cliff 'Come to the edge...' he said 'It's too high...' they said 'Come to the edge...' he said 'We'll fall...' they said 'Come to the edge...' he said And they did... And he pushed them... And they flew."

    A shame that "Denial" went straight to video. If the movie came from Europe, or the director's name was Bergman, Rohmer or Bunuel, its reception and fate would probably have been more sanguine.

    Erin Dignam and Robin Wright, with a fine performance by William Hurt, later made "Loved" ('97), another subtle, clever, underrated movie. Both merit revival and writer-director Dignam deserves another film.
  • Denial" is a Powerful and very real and emotional movie. I was able to sense the time warp so to speak from scene variations, From the young "Loon" to the More maturing woman played by Robin Wright. Both Characters played though the same woman, came through Beautifully and respectfully. It takes a certain person to comprehend the emotions played out between Jason Patric and Robin. So obviously this movie is not for everyone. Its for the person who feels deeply and has lost or been torn away from a relationship and still somewhat willing to feel the pain after many years apart. The Haunting Music composed by None other than Harold Budd, adds and enriches the story and complex undertones we visit throughout the movie and I found myself knowing and sensing her emenant breakdown in the end and the freedom she feels within herself prevailing over her own human weakness. What a refreshing Movie......Nothing "Hollywood" about this movie by no means. Just something for all the critics who rebuke this movie......Leave the comfortable shallowness of your reviews and venture out to the Deep and there you will find "Denial" and then you will understand! Btw, I am an INFJ.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was one of each's early movies. I'm surprised this movie didn't sink their career Robin Wright and Jason Patrick both have extreme talent and depth, however this is possibly the worst movie I have ever seen. It has no backstory and I resisted the urge to cut it off hoping something would make sense. What a waste of film reel.