“The Sweet Hereafter” portrays the grief stricken citizens of a remote Canadian town traumatized by a terrible accident, and the impact of an ambulance-chasing lawyer who is attempting to deal with the grief in his own life. The film also depicts the grieving subjects susceptibility to convert grief and guilt into both blame and monetary gain and the transformation this small community faces after such a devastating event.
The motives of Mitchell Stephens, the lawyer trying to file a class-action lawsuit, and of the townspeople are questionable throughout the film. Some in the community feel that attempting to win money in a court case is unnecessary and in fact will tear the town farther apart. Nicole’s parents are after the money, when others, such as Bear’s parents want to make sure that this amount of pain and suffering does not come upon others in the near future. They are not after the money as much as the answers that a lawsuit will bring about how the accident was caused and allow them some closure.
The film chronicles the histories of three fathers, and manages to relates and link their events and situations. First is Mitchell Stephens and his relationship with his drug-addict daughter. Second is Sam, and the secret affair he is having with his young daughter Nicole. He is somewhat of a narcissistic character because of his preoccupation with himself and pleasing himself, and his lack of empathy throughout the film for the others in the town. Third is Billy, who loves his two children so much that he follows behind the school bus every day waving at them. Billy is also having an affair with a married woman who owns the town’s only motel. On the exterior the town is an average place with good people just living their lives. But, beneath all the small town simplicity is a web of lies and secrets, some which must be dealt with in the face of this tragedy.
Mitchell Stephens is attempting to deal with the grief and angst of the townspeople, while at the same time, deal with his own problems and difficulties with his daughter Zoe. He obsessively retells the story of when his daughter was bitten by a black widow, and he had to assume complete control over her life. The scene in the car on the way to the hospital is shot from his perspective only. However, in the previous scenes where Zoe is sh...
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...arily be fixed at all. She knows that the lawsuit is affecting the people in her town a lot. After Billy’s visit she realizes that she must lie to the lawyers or else the town she lives in will be in much worse shape than it is now.
Dolores is the driver of the bus. She and Nicole are the only known survivors of the crash, and also the two eldest passengers of the bus. Dolores lives in a world all her own. She loves her job and treats every child that rides her bus as she would her own. She amasses an incredible amount of guilt after the accident, but knows that it was not her fault. She lives in a state of self-delusion before the crash. She keeps individual pictures of all the children that ride the bus hung in her home. When Nicole places the blame on Dolores by lying to the lawyers, she ruins Dolores’s life, as she knows it. A viewer can’t help but wonder it is all justified, because Nicole is now paralyzed and Dolores just has a minor neck injury.
“The Sweet Hereafter” is a film about relationships, whether between father and child, husband and wife, or between neighbors. It is these relationships that shape the outcomes and motives of all those affected by the accident.
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