To Reconcile With A Bear- "An Unfinished Life"
To Reconcile With A BearBy Madelyn Ritrosky-Winslow
Griffin Gilkyson’s headstone tells us that he died at the age of 21 – a young man with an unfinished life. In fact, eleven years later, his life is still unfinished because the loved ones he left behind have never been able to find peace and completion. Their grief, anger, and remorse are unfinished. By the end of An Unfinished Life, the camera zooms out beyond the Wyoming ranch where these characters’ lives have unfolded; Griffin’s spirit can finally find completion.
Does the viewer feel a sense of completion, too? Yes, for all angst and accompanying symbolism are wrapped up neatly. If you like your slice-of-life relationship dramas tightly metaphoric, then you will probably like An Unfinished Life. If you like this type of drama to stay a bit ragged and questioning, then chances are this film will seem too smoothly wrapped.
Now, if you like Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman, then I think you will really enjoy this film. Einar Gilkyson (Redford) and Mitch Bradley (Freeman) are the types of characters that Redford and Freeman seem to play so well – think The Horse Whisperer and Unforgiven. They’re both old cowboys, just living day to day now in their own little isolated corner of the world on a ranch outside a small Wyoming town.
Einar is still angry over his son’s death in a car accident and continues to blame his daughter-in-law, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez), all these years later. Einar shares his ranch with Mitch, who is now painfully crippled from a bear mauling a year earlier, yet remains perceptively straightforward and forgiving. He is crippled physically while Einar is crippled emotionally.
Einar must find the philosophical place that Mitch has found. Mitch must stand up to the bear (yes, that means both the animal and Einar). Mitch and Einar's interactions were my favorite scenes.
Jean is also crippled by her lingering guilt, which most clearly affects her daughter, Grif (Becca Gardner), through Jean’s self-punishment of an abusive boyfriend. Her decision to leave that relationship (in Iowa) and head back to Wyoming sets the story in motion. When they arrive, we learn that Jean was pregnant when Griffin was killed – and Einar never knew he had a granddaughter.
Jean must learn to forgive herself, reconcile with Einar, and allow Grif and Einar a chance to develop their relationship. As a supporting character, Crane Curtis (Josh Lucas) is the good, steady, handsome sheriff who supports her as she makes the transition.
And never fear, children and animals – symbols of life, of timeless nature and regeneration – are here to show us the way to the film’s message of hard-won but renewed life. The bear that mauled Mitch (Bart the Bear) is one of the stars of the film, functioning as an obvious symbol of the main characters’ lives.
But back to Freeman and Redford. It would be great to see these two now venerable actors (both are now 68) work together in another film. At one point here, Einar’s granddaughter, Grif, assumes that Mitch and Einar must be a couple. They are not lovers. But they do clearly love each other – it’s a long-term friendship and partnership. They are each other’s family, doing things for one another that they’d never do for anyone else. And it’s Redford and Freeman who make these weathered old hands come alive with subtle chemistry.
An Unfinished Life opens in limited release Friday, September 9, 2005.