The Human Stain

The Human Stain


Reviewed by: Claire Sawers

Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) is an esteemed college professor in a sleepy New England town. When a benign comment made in class is taken as racism, he loses his job and the respect of his colleagues. Not long afterwards, he loses his wife and finds his personal life in tatters.

Feeling desperate and lonely, he begins sleeping with wild girl Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), more than 30 years his junior. Although outsiders view the pairing as sordid and unsavoury, the couple cling together, finding solace in this unlikely romance.

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Watching the initial scenes between wrinkled sixtysomething Hopkins and the statuesque Kidman is as uncomfortable as it is hard to believe. Only when the ice-cold veneer of Farley's chain-smoking, rough-talking sexual predator begins to melt that we understand something about the attraction between these lost souls. Even when making wisecracks, as the surly overworked know-it-all, there is something in Farley's slender frame and wide eyes that betrays the fragility of a child. She has secrets that she does not want to talk about, enough to make her lunge into the arms of the first man who so much as glances at her.

"Action is the enemy of thought," she tells Silk, when he asks her why she has three jobs. And watching her as she embarks on a passionate, conversation free, affair with him, it seems that sex is the enemy of fear and loneliness and regret and all the other demons she is running from.

As we question why an educated man would risk what remains of his reputation for the sake of sex with a feisty cleaning lady, we discover that he, too, has demons. His life may have been built around solid family values and academia, but as flashbacks to his early college years show, all of it is a lie.

This multi-layered study of human emotions darts back and forth, from past to present, weaving in girlfriends and family from Silk's past. The twisted story spans decades, but a series of consistently strong performances give the plot the cohesion it needs.

Gary Sinise and Ed Harris provide excellent support in their small, but perfectly formed, roles and Wentworth Miller plays Silk as a young man with touching credibility. His performance of a troubled college boy, in his first big film, is truly compelling, promising great thing for the future.

The plot centres around Hopkins's character, but the most memorable moments are those with Kidman. After finding love in the strangest of places, watching her struggle with new and unexpected feelings is enough to bring tears to a glass eye.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2004
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An ageing professor hides a terrible secret from his past, as he begins an affair with a woman 30 years younger.
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Director: Robert Benton

Writer: Nicholas Meyer, based on novel by Philip Roth

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Wentworth Miller, Jacinda Barrett, Harry Lennix

Year: 2003

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Germany/France


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