This is gonna be a bit of a weird article, considering this will be my first on a movie, and also on a movie that almost no one has heard of. But in the line of criticism, it’s always a topic of discussion of which story direction is the best. There are a ton of different twists and turns to make a story great, and whichever a critic likes the most almost completely banks on preference. As such, a lot of the time, story preferences tend to follow a positive route, ones that end with simple good endings or with something with good action. There are occasions where the casual tale of a good story is sprinkled with inklings of serious drama, and those are pretty well-liked. But me being the evil cynic I am, my favorite type of story-telling is when a good-willed protagonist goes off the deep end and becomes a monster. There are a couple different reasons, one of which being the fact that I just don’t see it very often, but the main reason is that there is a lot a person can do with that. The variety of emotions, thoughts, and reactions you can trigger out of the corruption of a person is incredible. And one of the most evocative examples of corruption is a little movie from 2011 called Bernie.
Oddly enough, this movie has the weirdest casting. Jack Black, Matthew Mcconaughey, and Shirley MacLaine; these aren’t really a common group you see. The description of the movie is nothing more than Jack Black as a mortician named Bernie Tiede in Carthage, Texas. Immediately you hear that and think of a quirky comedy with hullabaloos and hi-jinks alike. So I was bored one day, had nothing really else to do, so I watched it. At around the 40-minute mark, what I thought what the movie was going to be was about a mile away, as I was introduced to not only a pretty decent movie, but also a movie that I think about almost every day. It evoked so many different types of story-telling, made so many possible philosophical questions, and tested my brain in so many different ways. But enough of that, I’ll give a bit of a synopsis and try not to spoil it.
The movie combines a style of documentary and dramatization, because the movie is chillingly based on a true story. Jack Black as Bernie Tiede is a mortician in Carthage, Texas. The movie starts with different people recounting their memories of Bernie and what he was like to them, again in the style of a documentary. These sections of the movie contain a mixture of actors and actual people who knew the real Bernie Tiede, but for my money, I would believe each one of them is from Carthage. For those unfamiliar, Carthage is a little ol’ town in Texas, one that is like the pocket of the South. As such, the movie is filled with deep-fried flavor and a real feeling of southern living. This is what leads into the movie’s real appeal, me being a deep-fried southerner myself, and it really builds what the movie really works at. So through these sequences, we’re introduced to Bernie and how much of a good man he is. An evangelist that doesn’t request a dime in return, Bernie helps anyone in any way he can. Eventually a grieving widow named Marjorie Nugent, played by Shirley MacLaine, is befriended by Bernie after her husband passes, but she ain’t exactly a well-liked citizen by everyone else. A legendary mean old woman, her only known traits are her meanness and her riches. Bernie does everything he can to make this woman happy in her grieving months. But as Bernie will find out, every generosity has its limits…
The odd part about the movie is that the climax pretty much happens halfway through the movie, and everything else is just the aftermath. Watching it again, the build-up is actually rather short for this level of corruption to happen to this sort of good-natured character. But it is something that is extremely thought-provoking nonetheless. Again, it’s hard to talk about this without spoiling it, so I have to tread lightly. But the general gist of it is that its simple premise shoots out multiple messages that can be taken any way. It’s a story that doesn’t really have a moral, and those are my favorite because not only does it not shove down a message in your throat, but it can be taken in multiple different ways. What really helps with this is Jack Black. It’s hard to imagine the guy as more than a recurring Dreamworks character or a singer to a band who sings mostly about genitilia, but his acting, without a joke, is superb. The way he goes from gleefully singing hymns to crying over his shattered ideals is seamless, and it’s hard to believe this is the same guy who has a song about a fight between flutes and trombones. He even outshines Matthew Mcconaughey, although to be fair he doesn’t play much of a role in the narrative.
But the main reason I wanted to bring up this movie and the art of corruption itself is how many ways it can speak to its audience. While the most common form of corruption has its protagonist fall to the depths of evil and stay there, the form this movie takes is slightly more sophisticated. It’s less of a story of a slow and steady destruction, and more of a relatively good and normal life that is permeated by a single mistake. But once the climax happens, it takes a different form. It could be taken as a sign of forgiveness, an act where someone who is truly sorry should be forgiven and not thought of ill. But it could be also taken as a sign of group dynamic, where a man’s acts, however cruel, are overlooked because of his good-doings. This sort of explains the reason I love this type of story-telling, because you can pretty much do whatever you want with it and have it go over well. Granted, there are also many ways to screw it up royally, and one example is the Maleficent movie, where a simple story of corruption ends up flipping it around to a run-of-the-mill tragic hero story. It made it even worse because of how gleefully evil Maleficent was in the original Sleeping Beauty, but I digress.
Corruption is a careful subject to tackle because of how easily it can screw up. Not only that, but the likelihood that an audience would be able to attach themselves to a character that will crash and burn is low. At least, that’s how the movie industry sees it. But there are a lot of situations where movies take a chance and give the usual protagonist a run for his money, and people tend to like it. I think it’s because it’s such a rare story to see nowadays. Most people go for the hero story that is a bit dark but not too dark, and they throw in obvious political correctness for bonus points with critics. Bernie is a rare occasion where I liked a lot of it, but almost no one has seen it. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, I think halfway through they forgot it was a partial-documentary style, but it was something I was genuinely surprised by. Hell, it’s frankly one of the only movies to knock me on my feet because of how surprised I was by the twists and turns. It even makes it more eerie not only it being based on a true story, but watching it a 2nd time, since you pick up on all the foreshadowing to the movie’s events. So if you guys are interested in this movie, it’s available on Netflix and for rental on multiple devices and platforms. Thank you guys for reading, and I hope you enjoy the movie.