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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'21 Grams': The Uniquely Expressive Tale of Interwoven Fates Delivered in Striking Nonlinear Form

Movie poster for the 2003 film 21 Grams

21 Grams (2003) is an evocative psychological drama (named for the alleged weight of the human soul) that interlaces the fates of three disparate individuals: a critically ill mathematics professor named Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) desperate for an organ donor, a recovering drug addict named Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) living with her husband Michael (Danny Huston) and two young daughters, and a former convict named Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) who has become a Born Again Christian.

In a moment of profound devastation, Jack inadvertently kills Cristina's husband and children in a hit-and-run accident, leaving Jack grief-stricken with remorse. Michael's heart is subsequently donated to Paul, who is granted a new lease on life—soon exploring the opportunity to grow a family with his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Meanwhile Cristina is overwhelmed by her loss and falls back on drugs and alcohol to mute her pain, unable to accept her crushing hardship. Increasingly curious to learn more about his departed benefactor, Paul tracks down Cristina through a private investigator and unwittingly triggers a cascading series of interpersonal transgressions and dire consequences.

Directed by renowned Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu (Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Revenant) 21 Grams is a searing human drama delivered with a unique fractured narrative—scenes from throughout the storyline arranged in a disunited manner before eventually coalescing. This atypical format creates a mosaic of disorientation and instability that places the viewer at the center of the film's emotional maelstrom—deliver a darkly exhilarating viewing experience to the audience. The second entry in Iñárritu's "Trilogy of Death" (following Amores Perros and preceding Babel), it's a deeply thought-provoking depiction of human fragility and the inextricable bonds of unity.


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