Beloved is a powerful and compelling film about the anguish of slavery, seen primarily in its aftermath, though enhanced with flashbacks both seen and told. It is the story of Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a black woman who loves deeply and suffers proportionately. A complex plot line, sometimes difficult to follow, is combined with elements of magical realism, a magical realism believably rooted in the superstitions of its characters. While slow to unfold, the exposition is justified in its explication of Sethe, her experience, and her pain. The pain is deep and this viewer, for one, was deeply moved.
Director Jonathan Demme elicits strong performances from a splendid cast, notably including Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, and always amazing Beah Richards.One could quibble about some of the editing and the nearly three hour length, but Beloved is never boring and is thoroughly convincing. The fully drawn characterizations provide credible motivation for some of the incredible events that transpire.
Best of all, Beloved never descends, as this material so easily can, into cheap sentimentality. It stays tightly focused on Sethe and her family. The survival of their humanity through the inhumanity to which they are subjected is both cathartic and affirming.