A Week at Bernie’s: Bernie

Here we go with the last entry for A Week at Bernie’s. Massive thanks to all the guest bloggers who have helped out this week. All the articles have been fantastic and please make an effort to support their work. Don’t forget that there are double entries up for grabs for this post, so be sure to get involved.

mcIf you are a regular reader of this site, you will already know that I am a big fan of Bernie (2011), so much so that it was my number 4 film of last year. Sorry to ruin any suspense of whether I was a fan or not. This review will give me a chance to expand out upon my reasons for liking the film so much in more detail. I will be giving a spoiler so I can make it easier to discuss why I am such a big fan of the film. If you know anything about the film, then you will know what it is because it is the major plot point, that is revealed about halfway through. But if you are desperate to see the film without knowing anything of what goes on, then it is probably best to save this article for later.

Bernie is the based on fact tale of Bernie Tiede, played by Jack Black. Bernie is the assistant funeral director in the small Texas town of Carthage. After burying her husband, Bernie strikes up a friendship with the most hated woman in town, Marjorie Nugent played by Shirley MacLaine in a rare screen role. After a ‘honeymoon’ period, Marjorie becomes incredibly controlling of the kind natured Bernie, so much so, that he shoots her dead. Distraught at what he has done, Bernie hides her body in the freezer and goes on living for another 9 months before eventually being caught. It is an incredible story, even more incredible given it is based on a true story.

free bernie

There are a couple of things that really make the film for me. The first is the script and structure used by director Richard Linklater. Instead of a straight narrative, the film is presented in a sort of mockumentary style. Real townsfolk are used to give their opinions on Bernie himself and the case more broadly. On my first viewing I thought these were unscripted, but I actually think I was mistaken and they were scripted. Having said that though they feel so true to life. The Texan vernacular and raw spirit of these non-professional actors is intoxicating and elevates the film to another level. These gossiping townspeople also get across just how beloved Tiede was amongst all of the people of Carthage and their feelings about what came to befall him.

The second reason I love this film so much is the incredible performance by Jack Black. From the very first scene you can tell that it is a special performance and a wonderful transformation by an actor widely perceived (probably with a reasonable amount of merit) as only having one setting. What Black’s performance, in conjunction with the screenplay, achieves is that it presents a really three dimensional character, where a caricature could have so easily ended up coming through. There are so many nuances to the character of Bernie – great at his job, beloved by the whole town, closet homosexual, incredibly kind, a man of great faith, a talented musician – which provokes so much thought in the viewer. Much of this is in the script, but it is also down to Black. See his performance in the immediate aftermath of when he murders Marjorie. The immediate reaction is shock and horror at what he has done. Straight after he is panic stricken with what the reaction will be from his god. Finally his thoughts turn to how to get himself out of the hole he has created for himself. Jack Black conveys all of this really well, without another actor to spar with, just him and the camera.

The third and final aspect of the film that I love and will discuss is just how much it does leave the audience with to think about. Marjorie treats Bernie terribly in the film with many of her actions falling into the realm of what you would call domestic violence. She controls him financially and using great guilt, essentially rendering him a prisoner in the situation he finds himself in. Does that absolve Tiede of what it drove him to do? No, but it does give rise to pondering the nature of his crime and the nature of the justice that is metered out to him. Just how easily Bernie gets away with his crimes, also makes you wonder about the notion of trust and how we trust those that we think we know or should trust. It is a theme that has been presenting itself to me a lot lately, especially in Compliance (2012) which I will be reviewing soon, and to a lesser extent Serpico (1973). In this film, the fact that it is the town’s beloved Bernie that is doling out the excuses that explain Marjorie’s continued non-appearance means that his crime is able to go undetected for so long. No one really questions all of this, except the smarmy money-grubbing accountant, who is just chasing his commission. It is only through this level of (misguided?) trust that such a genuine, almost naive man was able to carry on his life after the murder for nine months so easily.

bern n marj

An exceptionally rendered, simultaneously darkly comic & touching, tale of a friendship that grows under strange circumstances and comes shuddering to a halt due to the abuse of one of the parties. The cast are all fantastic, but it is Jack Black who steals the show, in what is definitely not a ‘Jack Black film’. Check out this highly original flick if you have not already done so.

Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Want to win a copy of Bernie thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out the details here on how to enter.

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6 responses

  1. I still need to see this!

    1. You do, it’s awesome. Would be interested to hear what you think of it.

  2. It’s insane that this story is actually true and that they have first-hand accounts on almost everything that occurred between the two. Mainly, that’s where the magic of this flick lies. Good review.

  3. Don’t even remember this opening over here, but I definitely want to check it out. Sounds like a bit of a sleeper hit.

  4. Great post. Will try to see Bernie this weekend.

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