By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: She can heal people.
Edna (Ellen Burstyn) manages to survive a car crash and briefly finds herself in the afterlife, but ends up coming back to this world along with an amazing power to heal sick people with the simple touch of her hands. This makes her a celebrity in the small Kansas community that she lives, but others question her ability and wonder, especially since she refuses to acknowledge religion, if it may have a satanic origin. Her newfound boyfriend Cal (Sam Shephard) thinks she may be the second coming and becomes determined to get her to admit this even if it’s through violent means.
The story is loosely based on the life of Rosalyn Bruyere a self-described clairvoyant and medical intuitive who also acted as a consultant to the film. Although initially conceived as a thriller the script by Lewis John Carlino instead takes a more spiritual route, which I found refreshing. I also enjoyed the way director Daniel Petrie captures the vast Texas landscape, which despite the setting being in Kansas, was fully shot inside the Lone Star state.
The scenes of the afterlife are interestingly captured, but I found it baffling why Edna would just write this off as being ‘weird dreams’ and not connect it to any religious connotations. Having these visions then get ‘interpreted’ by her Grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne) seemed heavy-handed as even if a person was not religious themselves they would still be able to connect-the-dots on their own without it having to be explained.
The healing scenes work off of a murky logic. Edna is told after the accident that she is paralyzed from the waist down due to a blood clot in her spine and yet after she learns of her healing ability she places her hands on her legs to help her walk again, but if the root cause of the issue is actually in the back shouldn’t that be where she places her hands instead? The scene where a woman (Madeline Sherwood) who suffers from 2 degenerative vertebrates in her back, but is able to stand-up after she sees Edna doesn’t make sense either. Standing with missing vertebrae is liking walking without a knee or cartilage. It’s just not scientifically possible, so unless Edna’s healing can cause bone mass to grow where they isn’t any then I’m not sure how they her powers actually work.
I thought it was a bit loopy too that when Shepherd’s character gets injured in a bar fight his buddies take him to Edna’s isolated farmhouse miles away for her to stop the bleeding, but this is when Edna’s healing ability had not been fully established, before this she had only stopped the nose bleed of a young girl, which some might consider simply a fluke, so the most rational thing would’ve been to take him to a nearby hospital instead. The scene would’ve worked better had Edna been in the bar when Shepherd got injured and then jumped in to heal him after he got stabbed.
I didn’t feel Shepherd’s character had the right chemistry to make Edna want to have a relationship with him either. His beady-eyed stare made him look creepy and his father (Richard Hamilton) had accused Edna of being satanic, so why would she want anything to do with that family? He also came off too much like a nondescript redneck like all the other rednecks that made up that small town. Edna was clearly an outsider, so for her to be attracted to someone I would think that person would need to be an outsider as well.
I could never understand why Edna was so resistant to religion, or so completely confident that her powers weren’t heavenly sent. I got that her Christian zealot father (Roberts Blossom) may have turned her off from religion altogether and she didn’t want to deal with the pressures of being considered Christ-like, which is understandable, but I’m not sure Burstyn was the right choice to effectively pull off that type of character. I love Ellen and think she’s a great actress, but she’s also a very spiritual woman in real-life and it pretty much gets conveyed in her performance here whether that was the intention or not. An actress that displayed more of a cynical, snarky attitude, only to have her outlook change once these powers took hold would’ve created a more interesting and dramatic arch.
The third act has Edna going to Los Angeles where her powers are tested by researchers, but these scenes don’t have any satisfying conclusion to them, which I found frustrating. However, the scene that Edna has with her dying father I felt were strong and the best moment of the whole film.
The spiritual element gets left open to interpretation depending on one’s own perspective, which is good. It also has a really great, and to some degree, surprise ending, but I didn’t like the freeze-frame shots taken from the film shown over the closing credits, which cheapens it as this is typically something done on TV-shows and not movies.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: September 26, 1980
Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes
Director: Daniel Petrie
It always astonishes me when people who are not filmmakers criticize a filmmaker’s work by saying how they would have done it if they had produced it. If you think you can do better, then by all means do so. But telling someone else how they should have made their movie when it’s already out there seems a tad counterproductive.