Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lena Olin: The Closure

So I've noticed a trend in a few of the movies and television shows I've watched: Lena Olin seems to be one of those actresses that when she's in something, her character seems to bring about some sense of closure (and/or plot-twist) to the main character. Go with me on this one. And just a warning now, before I get compliants:

This post has spoilers about Alias, Awake, Chocolat, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and The Reader.

So on Alias, Olin plays Irina Derevko - the KGB spy-turned-terrorist mother of main character Sydney Bristow. She came to the US and married poor Victor Garber (ahem, JACK BRISTOW) to gain information from the CIA. That devious tramp. For the whole first season, she's thought to be dead. Until the plot twist that she's alive at the end of season 1. After drawing Sydney back in with maternal love - and after fooling Jack again - she bails from prison in another plot twist and joins Sloane to rule the world (insert evil laugh here). After throwing herself off a building with a bungee cord and a harpoon (seriously, watch this episode, she's a total badass), she disappears for about 2 seasons until the end of season 4. She comes back after a plot twist that she was again not dead (despite watching Jack shoot her in the face) and helps save some random town in Russia from total destruction. She again disappears for a season and shows up in the series finale at the end of season 5 to show that she's really an evil bitch, she's fully ready to blow up London and Washington D.C., and that she doesn't care if Sloane dies (really, who does?) because she has all the Rambaldi she really needs. She and Sydney fight, and she ends up falling through a glass ceiling and dying - for real this time, unless there's a movie in the works. This death gives Sydney closure that she's been seeking for 5 years, and she (semi) leaves the spy business with hot hubby Vaughn and her baby.

In Awake, Olin plays Lillith Beresford, mother and business partner of Clay Beresford (played by a typically horrible but reliably sexy Hayden Christiansen). Clay has a heart defect and needs a transplant. Clay just got married to girlfriend Sam Lockwood (played by a typically horrible but reliably sexy Jessica Alba). When Clay gets word that a heart is ready for him, and that his buddy/doctor Jack Harper will operate on him, Lillith (nice name, huh? It comes back later) begs and pleads with Clay to have the operation done at a more prestigious hospital with her friend/prestigious surgeon at the helm. Since Clay is a stupid douche, he goes with Jack to operate on him. As the title suggests, he wakes up during the surgery due to some issue with the
anaesthesia and hears the entire plot by the surgical team and by new wifey Sam to kill him off and steal his riches (which now would go to Sam). There are some odd hallucinations, and some awkward non-bonding between Sam and Lillith. But at the very end of the movie, when the problem with the heart goes - and Lillith's guilt over killing her abusive husband back in the day, combined with her love for momma's boy Clay - the plot twists and Lillith overdoses and leaves her own heart for Clay to keep on living. In a final hallucination at the end, she smiles, tells Clay everything about her life with his dad and how she wanted him to live on, and blows out the match on her life, leaving him to wake up with a sense of closure about his "marriage," about his family life, and his life in general.

In Chocolat, Olin plays an unusual role for her: the weak housewife. She plays Josephine, submissive housewife to abusive Serg, in the small French town that Julliete Binoche's Vianne invades. She's too scared to leave until encouraged by Vianne to do so and create her own life. She starts to work at the chocolatier with Vianne and her life starts to improve. Her husband tries to clean up his act by going to Sunday School with 7-year-olds and buying her flowers, but she turns him down flat and that makes him angry enough to bust into the store at midnight and try to kill her and Vianne (because no one likes the gypsy lady that doesn't observe Lent). He fails, they continue living - although they come close to dying on a fire-ridden boat while Vianne and Johnny Depp have hot hot sex in a tent-raft. At the end when Vianne and her daughter Anouk leave, Vianne hands the store over to Josephine to bring herself closure with the town and to move on to the next.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Olin plays Czech bohemian Sabina, the bowler-hatted artist lover to Daniel Day-Lewis's womanizing doctor Tomas. Everything is going great until Tomas goes to another town to treat someone and meets Tereza, the shy and monogamous Julliete Binoche (again, sense the trend?). They get married, Tomas continues to cheat with Sabina and others (as Sabina gets involved with train-lover Franz, played by Derek De Lint), and a lot goes down during Prague Spring (trust me, Wikipedia can explain this far better than I can). This whole cheating thing wouldn't be so uncomfortable if Sabina and Tereza weren't sort of friends. There are some awkward meetings between Sabina and Tereza, including a rather revealing photo session (if you are offended by nudity and/or sex, dont' see this movie. Trust me on this), and some awkward meetings between Franz and Sabina - Franz tells Sabina he loves her and not her bowler hat, and Sabina feels that love is overrated, so she bails. After some inter-country moving between Czechoslovakia and other nations, the group splits up for good and Tomas stays with Tereza, leaving Sabina to move to the United States with her art. It is through her that the story finds closure when she (and the audience) find out that Tomas and Tereza - her only real friends - both die in a car accident.

In The Reader, Olin plays not one, but TWO roles (one is seen in the picture above). They're small, but important characters. The basic outline of the story is this: Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes/David Kross for the younger Michael) barfs outside a building and meets Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a much older woman that he starts sleeping with. Again, Juliette Binoche connection: she was considered to play this part, which would have made this the third movie she and Olin had co-starred in. And again, if you don't like movies with a lot of nudity or sex, don't see this - Kate Winslet's boobs might as well get a seperate credit, they're in the movie so much. As his family worries about him and his friends wonder why he leaves swimming so early in his Speedo, he continues the love affair over a summer after WWII. Their foreplay is him reading to her, whatever book he happens to be studying. After some trips to the country for bike riding and beer, Hanna gets reassigned and leaves without telling Michael goodbye. Years later, when Michael is in law school, he observes the Nuremberg trials - the trial that Hanna happens to be in because she was a Nazi guard at Auschwitz. She and 6 other women are on trial for picking the women that would be killed. Through the testimonies of Ilana Mather (Lena Olin, for the first time) and her daughter Rose Mather, who wrote a book about her time there, it's revealed that Hanna made her prisoners read to her. Michael puts together from past experiences with Hanna that she is illiterate and therefore incapable for keeping the camp records she has been jailed for keeping. She's jailed for life, and he records books for her. She learns to read, but right before she gets out jail, she kills herself. In a plot twist, she leaves money in a tea tin for a now older Michael to pass on to the now grown Rose Mather (played by...Lena Olin) to put towards a literacy foundation. She turns down the money, but keeps the tea tin, because hers was taken in the camp. With a few wistful looks after their meeting as he leaves, she provides the closure for Michael about his affair with Hanna, and he takes his daughter to Hanna's grave to tell her the whole story.

She also brings about the plot twist and closure of Hollywood Homicide, but that's a shittier movie than Awake was, so I'm not discussing it.

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