Blog Directory CineVerse: The plain truth about The Burning Plain

The plain truth about The Burning Plain

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Cast three Academy Award-winning A-list actresses in your film and you’ve got a surefire recipe for instant success, right? Actually, that answer is debatable, especially as it relates to The Burning Plain, a 2008 feature directed and written by Guillermo Arriaga, which didn’t exactly wow critics upon its release but which boasts some remarkable performances. Our CineVerse group performed a forensic examination of the cinematic kind on this movie last week and arrived at the following observations (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What is notable, distinctive, interesting, or unexpected about The Burning Plain?

  • The cast is first-rate, featuring three actresses at various stages of their careers: an older but still impressive Kim Basinger, a young fresh face in Jennifer Lawrence (before she became a superstar), and Charlize Theron in her prime giving another exceptional portrayal.
  • The narrative is unnecessarily convoluted and confusingly intertwined, presenting three different narratives to follow across three separate timelines. Told chronologically, this tale might have been more impactful and certainly more comprehensible. One could argue that telling the story linearly would defeat the payoff of the reveal that Sylvia is actually Mariana, but many viewers likely guess this early on anyway.
  • The tone is excessively serious, lacking some needed humor and comic relief in pinches to buffer the heavy-handed solemnity.
  • Some of the characters lack motivational plausibility. For example: If Mariana is smart enough to disconnect the mobile home gas connection, wouldn’t she be smart enough to also realize that the nearby gas container is a fire/combustion risk? Also, what did she expect to happen by setting the trailer on fire in the first place? And wouldn’t she be emotionally and psychologically devastated after accidentally killing two people, one of whom is her mother?

Major themes

  • Forbidden love. Both Gina and her daughter Mariana engage in secretive love affairs that threaten to destroy their families and would forever alter their futures.
  • Living with scars. Gina bears the challenging scars of a double mastectomy, while Mariana self-mutilates with sharp rocks and fire; the fact that Mariana can bear the pain of burning and cutting her skin without flinching suggests that she is both strong and resilient while also perhaps numb to the psychological trauma she has endured.
  • Navigating the challenges of mother-daughter relationships and intergenerational trauma. This story depicts three generations – Gina, her daughter Mariana, and her granddaughter Maria. Each subsequent generation seems to be suffering from or bearing the burdens of the previous generation.
  • Abandonment and neglect.
  • Is it possible to forgive the unforgivable?

Similar works

  • Random Hearts
  • Leaving
  • Crooked Hearts
  • Sex and Lucia
  • The Descendants

Other films written by Guillermo Arriaga

  • Amores Perros
  • 21 Grams
  • Babel

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