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Trishna Review

By Geoffrey Morrison

When bad things happen to bad people

I hated this movie. Hated every slow, depressing, hopeless moment of it. Maybe you'll like it.

I was spared the torture of reading "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" in high school, the story on which this film based. With my normal pre-review blinders fully attached, I went into this movie knowing nothing of the story. Let me spoil it for you.

(I'm not kidding, the rest of this review is pretty much nothing but spoilers, so if you don't know the story and for some bizarre reason want to see this movie, stop reading. You've been warned.)

There's this girl. Bad things happen to her. Then more bad things happen to her. Then some really bad things happen to her. Then she kills herself.

I hate this movie.

OK, that's not entirely fair. It's not the movie I hate so much as the story. Given the 100+ year old material, and the conscious choice to inflict such depressing damage, I feel it's totally rational to hate on the story as part of the movie review. Just because it's old doesn't mean it's good.

If I separate out my hatred of the story, and view the movie in its ability to tell that (awful simpering pathetic) story, I'm less harsh. It's beautifully shot. Using mostly handheld cameras, "Trishna" acts as a sort of travelogue through the stunning landscapes of India. This is a country not often featured in American movies, and seeing the densely packed cities and ancient temples is by far the most enjoyable part of this film.

The acting is decent, at least as much as I was able to believe these weren't actors in roles, but people in a world. Their flat performances could be as much a part of the source material as their acting ability.

The music, mostly Indian pop music, is excellent. However, director Michael Winterbottom felt the need to put the lyrics on-screen. If you lack faith in the tone of your music to convey mood, why use it? If you have so little faith in your audience that they won't understand the feeling you're trying to convey with images and sound, you suck at your job. The lyrics won't, don't, and never will help.

Music with images is one of the most powerful tools in a filmmakers' arsenal. Wes Anderson uses it perfectly. Cameron Crowe is a damn master at it. Even if a director doesn't have that level of insight into the power of music, it shouldn't be hard to figure out that no one is listening for the lyrics. So why distract the audience with them written out on the screen? If I didn't know Peter Gabriel was saying "in your eyes", would the boombox scene in "Say Anything..." have been any less powerful?

I'm going to guess this isn't a big deal for most people, but I found the lyrical subtitles distracting and a significant misstep.

But I have to come back to the story. Viewed with 21st century values, or at least my 21st century values, I feel my disgust is perfectly valid. Part of the story is a caste conflict very typical of Indian cinema (not that this is Indian cinema, mind you). She's a poor girl, he's a rich whatever. That story is old, and still popular for a reason.

My complaint is that Trishna, for nearly the entire movie, is a passive participant in her life. Things happen to her, and she does nothing to affect the outcome. Not only is this frustrating, but it does nothing to enamor her to the audience. She doesn't try. There is no reason to like Trishna, or to care about her, other than bad things happen to her. There's no reason, other than she's hot, for the character Jay to "fall in love" with her. Without establishing why I should care, why would I care?

There's a brief, glorious release near the end where VICTORY! she finally stands up for herself. But instead of just leaving the man who treats her poorly (it's already established she can make a living on her own), she does the unthinkable. This escalation of violence doesn't work within the context of the story. I'm not saying the Jay character doesn't deserve what he gets, but there's never any exploration of her other options. He's not imprisoning her in any physical or seemingly emotional or financial way. Earlier in the movie, a friend offers Trishna to get her a dancing card so she can make money dancing in Bollywood films. Hell, earlier in the movie, she left him. So while you're briefly happy that mercifully she does something, it's followed up by: Wait, what? Why?

And the worst part? After the one decision she made for herself in the entire movie, poorly chosen as it may have been, she kills herself!

I'll freely admit (and have done so before) that I want a happy ending, or at least not a hopeless one. If a character tries and fails, that's epic. "The English Patient" comes to mind. I LOVE that movie. That's not what happens here. Every minute of this movie is a downer. This character that you're supposed to like is crapped on in every scene, does nothing about it, and then right after the one thrilling moment where she stands up for herself, she stabs herself and the movie ends.

I wanted to go hug puppies after this movie. I wanted to go listen to Owl City. I wanted to watch the Disney channel. I wanted to do anything to flush from my mind the distressing, brutal, heartless agony of this movie.

Perhaps the mark of a good movie is to evoke an emotion. Well "Trishna" did that alright. Depressed loathing is an emotion, isn't it?

What did you think?

Movie title Trishna
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary An excruciating travelogue through a gorgeous country. Based on a book I'm sure is equally bad.
View all articles by Geoffrey Morrison
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