This is the one you were all waiting for, right? This movie seems to be the first movie people think of when they think of a dead person narrating. Perhaps it is because Kevin Spacey comes right out and tells us that we are going to see him die at some point. The funny thing is, over the course of the narration, a lot of people seem to forget this, so his death scene is still really shocking to some.
It is how Spacey delivers his narration in American Beauty that makes it so memorable. He talks speaks about the events that are unfolding like they are memories. Like he is watching a reel on a video, over and over. You can almost feel his separation from the whole thing, and I think that is why this narration works so well.
This is them, all grown up! Spacey didn’t age, Suvari looks like her head may have gained weight.
Many people seem to find different aspects of this film memorable. The husband wife relationship stands out to some. The pining that the Kevin Spacey character does for Mana Suvari is memorable to others. And of course, the homophobic homosexual neighbor subplot was intense as well.
But for me, the most memorable aspect of American Beauty was easily the introspective way in which Kevin Spacey delivered the narration, like a man who lost everything, and knew it, yet had few regrets.
Voice acting is not as easy as one may initially think, and if you look at it the right way, between acting and doing the narration in an entirely different tone then he played his character, he delivered TWO amazing performances for that film.
The Lovely Bones
I suppose little Susie Salmon (apparently her parents chose her name from the Dr. Seuss School of kid names) narrating from some perch up in Heaven is supposed to make her previous rape and murder at the hands of her neighbor in The Lovely Bones okay. Because, she is, um, in a better place? Truth be told, in this instance it works a lot better in book format than it does on film.
Peter Jackson needs to stop giving Sauron cameos in all his movies, though. It is getting awkward.
The Lovely Bones is about a little girl who gets, well, I don’t want to say it again. I think you get the point. And then she looks down from heaven (purgatory? a cloud?) and tries to help sort everything out as best she can.
Though she narrates a bit BEFORE she dies, the heart of the narration happens afterwards. It is that sort of ” I am up in a cloud, looking down on my family and the grief and suffering this caused” kind of narration, and I suppose for that reason, it just feels a little too idealistic.
I do strongly believe that the narration is used here as a sort of a trick, a ploy. They do brutal things to this little girl, but then they appease you by trying to say: Hey look, she is narrating, and she is ok. Everything is ok! But in some ways, that is the problem when the dead narrate. I mean, can a person who was raped and murdered give an UNBIASED version of the events. Not likely.
In this case, her narration feels like it is used to quell the audience, when in most of these other examples, it is used to further the story. That is just this writer’s opinion though, so no one crucify me in the comments if you disagree. Just state your case with class and grace, and we can discuss it like gentleman.
Also, I need to ask, to anyone who is listening, when is Hollywood going to stop implying the dead help solve their crimes from the afterlife? This has NEVER happened. Stop it, Hollywood, that screwed me all up as a child. Death held no weight until I realized my Gammy wasn’t going to come to me at night and tell me where she hid her $100,000.00 necklace that she got from Jack that one night on the boat.
Honorable Mention: Joe Pesci in Casino.
This might be my favorite example of narration, ever. Pesci’s character is telling the story, unaware he is going to be killed. When it comes to part in the narration that he dies, he chokes and gags a little bit and his narration stops.
So imagine it like this, there are two Pesci’s existing on two different timelines, in what is ultimately the same Universe. They are NOT actually two Pesci’s though. It is one Pesci, and one PART of Pesci. And when the Pesci dies in the story, the other part of Pesci, naturally, dies as well, because they are one being, even if they are two PARTS of one being. Do you get it? Yeah, me neither, but it is AWESOME!
Joe Pesci has, without reason, kept toothpicks pertinent in pop culture.
The most interesting thing about having a dead person narrate for you, is that, sometimes, you don’t find out until the end. You had your hand held the whole time, and you had no idea you were holding onto a clammy, lifeless hand. It can be mind blowing, in the right context. Like RIGHT NOW, WHEN I INFORM YOU THAT I ACTUALLY DIED TWO DAYS AGO AND HAVE NARRATED THIS WHOLE ARTICLE FROM THE AFTERLIFE, which looks an awful lot like a Tim Burton film set, oddly enough.