Eye For Film >> Movies >> Stephanie Daley (2006) Film Review
Reviewed by: Chris
Knowing through logic, or intuition if we suppress what's staring us in the face, how can we find the truth? Such are the elements of a good mystery; and in the case of Stephanie Daley, they are also the subject matter.
Liddie Crane (Tilda Swinton) is a forensic psychologist trying to determine if 16-year-old Stephanie (Amber Tamblyn) knew she was pregnant. As the girl has just recovered from a horrific experience - we don't find out till later exactly how horrific - it seems slightly strange no one seems overly concerned about her welfare, or why it is so crucial to know if she knew. What is even more strange is that all we find out is that she wandered out of a ski resort, leaving a trail of blood. The hospital reports that she has recently given birth and that she was 24 weeks pregnant. Swinton's character also happens to be pregnant - 29 weeks. The legal age when a foetus is considered viable varies, but is generally around 24 weeks.
There are snatches of conversation - teeth used to cut the cord - toilet paper embedded in the face. I found myself leaning forward and concentrating, afraid I might miss something, just as one does when eavesdropping on a quietly spoken person.
Crane is no stranger to pregnancies going wrong. We see her watching a baby scan and learn she has conceived only three months after a stillbirth. An intelligent, professional woman, she is coping with her own state of mind, careful not to pass on her obvious anxiety to the child. She has fine legal training, but looks back to the time of her last pregnancy when she knew - she just "knew" - that something was wrong. We believe her, but later watch her discomfort as she realises she is asking Stephanie not if, but how, she knew, challenging a certainty that she herself would not be able to explain with logic. Stephanie shows all the psychological characteristics of a developing teenage mind, sometimes confused between what she "believes" and what her intuition tells her.
Stephanie Daley is part mystery, part psychological drama, and, towards the end, a harrowing thriller of unexpected intensity. Without proselytising for one side or the other, it also puts issues such as sex education and the laws regarding minors into stark perspective. The storyline could be seized on to advocate stronger obedience to religious injunctions - Stephanie thinks that when things go wrong God is punishing her - or question the whole basis of sex education, influenced by religious beliefs. One might bear in mind that for a majority of US citizens, the lack of fervent Christian beliefs in Europe suggests a lack of moral fibre, whereas many Europeans see American evangelism as eating away at good values and imposing harmful moral strictures.
Denial is another element of Stephanie Daley. Is she denying the truth to herself? Does Crane deny her woman's intuition in favour of legal niceties? Stephanie's mother wants all the fuss to be over quickly. Psychologically, it appears she is denying that anything terrible has happened.
Swinton's career, apart from the odd glitch, has included a remarkable number of challenging films. This one may not receive the immediate recognition it deserves, but that does not detract from it being complex, ingenious and intelligently woven. Her character, like the brilliant script by writer/director Hilary Brougher, rewards every bit of study and attention. Unlike the teenager she is interviewing, Crane has developed both the objective and intuitive parts of her character to a mature level. When they come into conflict at the end, the interior struggle slips out from her professional facade just for a moment.
Of all the images that remain from the film, it is the solitary anguish of Stephanie, her hand over her face to muffle a scream, that will haunt you for days afterwards.Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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