A Map of the World

A Map of the World is a story that
unfolds without much direction, just like life.

One way that movies differ from real life is that in films there is a plot that has a well-defined beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, life is not that way. There is an old song by John Lennon that so correctly states "life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans". This sums up what happens in A Map of the World.

Map of the World is a story that unfolds without much direction, just like life. Sigourney Weaver plays Alice Goodwin, wife, mother and friend. She and her husband Howard (David Strathairn) moved from the city to live on a dairy farm. They have two daughters Emma and Claire that are a constant stress to Alice. This is especially true of Emma that is openly hostile to Alice. Alice works as a school nurse where one mother is a particular thorn in Alice’s side. This mom, Carole Mackessy (Chole Sevigney) is a single mother that often sends her son to school while sick. Alice and Howard are best friends with another couple with two daughters the same age as theirs. This friend Theresa (Julianne Moore) trusts Alice and often swaps baby-sitting with each other. This is where the drama truly starts. In one of those brief moments that no one can foresee, Alie goes to another room to change into a bathing suit to take the girls for a swim. Unable to wait, the youngest daughter of Theresa goes to the pond and drowns. Before the dust settles Alice is accused by Carole of child abuse and life falls apart as they cart Alice off to jail.

Map of the World meanders through the life of this woman as she falls from grace and strives to obtain redemption. In fact, the narration supplied by Alice describes how the fall from grace comes not in a smashing moment but happens slowly, unnoticed at first by the person failing. Map of the World is incredibly strong in emotion, drive and insight into human emotions.

The acting in Map of the World displays a definite prejudice to female portrayals. The main male character of Howard is displayed as a very oblivious person. When the children are screaming, food is split all over the floor and the stove is on fire Howard sits calmly at the table eating breakfast and reading the paper. Only the women in this story display any depth of character. This is perhaps one of the finest roles that Weaver has taken on. She provides a depth of understanding for the character of Alice that somehow reaches the audience on a very emotional level. She presents Alice as a woman trapped by circumstances beyond her control. Weaver takes her character to the very edge of losing it all yet somehow finds the strength to continue on, searching for that hope of redemption. Moore also gives an excellent performance. There is one scene that is particularly moving. After the death of her daughter she returns to Alice’s property, the place where her daughter drowned. Standing there in the dark Alice approaches as Moore lights a cigarette embarrassed by the need for such a crutch as she grieves. It is moments like this that strung together provide a gripping drama. Sevigney has a small but crucial part in Map of the World. While not the best showcase for her talents it demonstrates that this actress has the respect for her craft so that she is not afraid to take a smaller role in a quality film.

I find it interesting that a male director, Scott Elliott, was able to provide such a female perspective. He really permitted Weaver to take the lead in how her character was develop her character to its fullest. This is Elliot’s freshman effort but it doesn’t show. He strikes a nice balance between the beauty of the farmland and the horror that is going on in Alice’s life. Map of the World unfolds, as often does life, seemingly without a script. Events just come out of left field to smack the characters in the face. Map of the World has an intimate feel to it, the audience can often feel like a voyeur observing the events in the lives of this woman. Map of the World does not follow any specific genre. It goes from an almost Lifetime network death of a child film to a courtroom movie, to a prison flick. At the end it takes the time to show the aftermath of these events. Elliott permits the audience the opportunity to tie up the loose ends and see that although Alice’s life gets back on track things will never be the same again.

The Map of the World disc is not what many would consider up to modern standards. It has Dolby Surround audio rather than a full 5.1 soundtrack. For those that would disregard this film because of this just a little advice, get over it. Film can be enhanced by full, rich sound but the value lies in the telling of the story. The video is a crisp, clear anamorphic 1.85:1. Even during the most dramatic changes from light to dark the picture is free of artifact. There are no really no extras on the disc. The value is in Map of the World.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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