The Life Before Her Eyes – An Analysis (MAJOR SPOILERS)

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A few years ago I saw a movie, The Life Before Her Eyes, which intrigued me very much. I was very taken with it and it is one of my favorite movies for many reasons. I wrote a review – which you can read HERE – and I also wrote about what I thought the meaning of the movie was to me. But I lost that part – grrr. Recently I suggested it to a friend and I wanted to discuss some of this with her, but I had a hard time recalling the details. So, I watched it again today and took notes. Below are just some random things I noticed while watching the second time and also some thoughts on how I interpreted the movie.  Know that you should NOT read this is you have not seen the movie. It will ruin it and it is a great movie which I would hate to ruin for anyone.

At least three times in the movie (in car with daughter, in car with Maureen and whistled by mailman) was the song “She’s Not There

Choose Life bumper sticker on Maureen’s car

Art subjects in (grown) Diane’s art classes – Difference between real and imagined & Who are we, where are we going (Gauguin – symbolist artist – known for quasi religious symbolism – clashing often with Catholic church)

While swimming alone, ultrasound noises while touching her belly

She wears the same bangle bracelets as young and grown Diane

Butterflies are often pictured – drawings, tattoos, actual – butterflies signify going from one life to the next – metamorphosis

Twice it is repeated, the scene when Maureen says something about the rain crushing the flowers and some stay crushed and some pop back up.

Water is a big element in this movie. Water usually symbolizes life, death and rebirth. Through pool scenes to rainstorms and at the end – the seemingly raining of water in the bathroom water seems a constant theme. Diane asks Maureen is people evaporate like mist and just disperse into the universe “I wonder who were breathing in now” she says tongue in cheek. This ‘mist’ is common as is the consistent displays of insects, pollen and flowers in the movie. Very detailed, colorful closeups. Many whom have had NDEs (near death experiences) have reported that once they realized they were dead, they suddenly understood that all energy is equal…meaning people, cats, insects…we are all one and none is more important than the other.

As grown Diane runs through the woods towards the end searching for her daughter Emma, young Diane walks through the mock cemetery for the ‘unborn’ searching for the name Emma (a name she picked out earlier in the movie when talking about baby names). Many people think that because of these metaphors, the movie was trying to deliver an anti-abortion theme. I do not believe this is the case and actually quite opposite – well not opposite, but vastly different. I believe the choosing the art and discussions of Gauguin were no coincidence.

I think it s just an honest take on a girl’s journey through guilt and feelings of unworthiness. She is guilty about her abortion. I highly doubt anyone who has had the procedure does so without guilt. She is ashamed of her (sexual) behavior and this is why the word “slut’ is so upsetting to her. In the moments at the end when her imagined future life is going ‘before her eyes’, she is seeing it through the eyes of one who feels guilt and shame. I think this is why she projected that her future husband would cheat. This is why as grown Diane she states “I don’t deserve this”.

In one of the final scenes, we see Diane and Maureen attending a lecture given by grown Diane’s professor husband – the same man Diane is talking about as they walk into the bathroom (she says she keeps calling and hanging up). This is what he says which has her fixated during his speech:

“Begin to be now what you will be hereafter….Our deepest guide in our beginning to BE is imagination. Our ability to project and mold our future selves from the myriad of possibilities before us.”

The entire experience of grown Diane is young Diane’s projection of what her life would have been. She projected the guilt – both survivors and about the abortion, her unworthiness as explained above, her hiding daughter…all what she in that flash projected what her life would have been like if Maureen had been the victim.

What do you think?

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About Heather Rayne

I am a mom, wife, writer, volunteer, eater of food, lover of animals and avid TV enthusiast. I am opinionated, honest, compassionate and sensitive. I can also be difficult, hard headed and emotional. I consider myself to have a great sense of humor and am very attracted to that in others. I am striving to live an authentic life. I am attempting to learn how to find happiness in the now. I always have hope to be a better person. That being said - I can be vulgar, negative and even a little bitchy at times. I say what I mean and my filter is often dysfunctional. With me, what you see is what you get. I have strong opinions and am quick to speak my mind. This can cause problems from time to time but I do not ever intend to hurt or offend anyone. With that - be warned. I do hope you enjoy my site. Thanks for visiting and have a swell day.

34 responses »

  1. Thank you verry much! There was something I couldn’t get and you gave light on it 🙂 it’s turned over! And yeah, this perspecyive is completely right.

  2. Just finished watching this movie & yes, like everyone was flummoxed! Thank you for making sense of it all. Of course! it was flash forwards not flashbacks. However, there were regrets in her choice at the end,I thought, when she was searching in the woods.There would be no Emmas & her mother’s pain screaming out her name.So sad.

  3. Thank you for your great review, it just aired in France and I was really disapointed not seeing all the clues disseminated along the movie. It makes all the sense now!

  4. Thanks! I just watched it, got frustrated, googled and now it’s all clear! I can see why it didn’t get a high rating (even though it’s an excellent film!) no-one likes to feel dumb because they can’t work out what happened! I’d give it a high rating now , but immediately after watching, it would have been lower!
    Cheers.

  5. I wish I would have seen this movie when I was 17. Perhaps my life would have turned out different. I am that bitter woman she talks about. Very hard pill to swallow. “I don’t deserve this” has been the theme of my entire life. Is it too late to start over?

  6. When grownup Diane was on her way to the high school with the flowers she was stopped by a lady and asked of she was a survivor. She answered with a no, which gives us a clue that she didn’t make it out of the bathroom alive.

  7. Just an absolutely beautiful film. I thought your explanation was spot on, Its one of those films that needs to be watched several times. . so rich, so deep. . its almost impossible to figure out first time around. Thank you for your great review.

  8. I am myself a survivor of a school shootings. This movie really touched me. I feel the simiral quilt ans and sometimes I imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t survive.

  9. thank you for ur explanation. its a possibility. the truth is the movie is a master piece and no one can really explain it.

  10. I just watched the movie and of course like many people I was so confused that immediately made a google search:) It must be very surprising and amazing at the same time for you that you posted this interpretation in, I guess, 2011 and you still get comments and replies! I believe you writing has really helped me understand the movie. I believe this is an amazing film considering how it made a great crowd think over the movie and discuss with others.

    I just wanted to add one point to all that has been said; After the car accident, adult Diane was in the bathroom floor crying and her husband came to the bathroom door they argued a little and he said “I don’t understand, I am your husband.” and Diane responded, ” You are not my husband!” and slammed the door. I didn’t realized it of course while watching the movie – actually thought it was a silly thing to say to your husband when you have fight with him – however, it all makes sense right now that he has never been her husband in the first place. I believe that in that scene, in a moment of desperation, adult Diane gives us a signal that of course this is not the reality, she could have never had a normal family, husband or a child because, again, she does not deserve it.

    Now that I do understand the story better there is one thing that I am not satisfied about. I feel like would like to see more of adult Maureen, seeing that she survived. I of course do not mean during the movie but I feel like there could have been a scene at the very end of the movie showing how Maureen’s life turned for I don’t believe she managed to have that “normal” life they talking about either.

    With all that said, thank you again!

    • Dear it’s illogical to see her friend’s future in the movie. Bcz she was seeing her future which means her friend died by the shooter.

  11. Yes, I agree with the significance of this statement:

    “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter….Our deepest guide in our beginning to BE is imagination. Our ability to project and mold our future selves from the myriad of possibilities before us.”

    Diana had not really done anything significant in her life. She was rebellious and a slacker at school, she gave her mother a hard time. Her teacher told her she had so much potential if she would just apply herself. She got involved with a deadbeat who got her pregnant and abandoned her, and she had an abortion. The reality of the abortion hits her when she sees the cemetery of the unborn.

    When she hears the inspirational lecture, recommended by her teacher, it touches something in her and inspires her as nothing has before in her life. She had also asked Maureen before walking into the bathroom when life was going to begin instead of “all this”-a sign that she was bored and restless with life. When she is in the bathroom faced with the shooter, both her and Maureen are terrified. Neither wants to die, but neither do they want to live at the others expense and see the other die. So in that moment, inspired by the words of Paul McPhee, Diana makes a decision to do something that she had never done before-to do something for someone else, rather than just selfishly thinking of herself. She in fact becomes a martyr. The future scenes of her adult married life are “the life before her eyes”. As her life flashes before her eyes, she sees how it will end up if she continues on the same trajectory she has been on – she pursues the professor for her own selfish interest, she sees herself becoming bitter like her mother-something she told Maureen she didn’t want to become. Instead she takes inspiration from the professor and engages in one great, selfless act-to save the life of her dear friend, one who was pure and chaste and would go on to have a good life. In this scene she triumphs over her former life and becomes the best she can be.

    Lying in the water after being shot is I think symbolic of her continuance after death, since it was stated earlier that we are 80% (?) water and the water is recycled in different forms. So Diana will live on in another form.

    • I just watched this movie, it ended a few minutes ago and I was left a bit confused, so I went online to find an explanation, and came across this post. I read your post and it all made sense, thank you. I can go to sleep now 🙂

      • Me2 I just watched it last night and these reviews have really helped make sense of the movie now I like it so much more thank you

  12. I finished watching the move just half an hour ago and was very confused indeed. I felt I knew what it meant but was struggling to piece together all the parts of the jigsaw. Thank heavens for this review by Heather as being the type of person I am It would be bothering me for weeks!!

  13. thank you for the review – to be honest with you, I was having some serious doubts about my interpretation of the movie and wasn’t sure that I was “getting” the point of the movie – but, thanks to the almighty google, I found your review, and I don’t think I was too far off, thank you again

    • It really amazes me but every day this post is always the most popular. So many people just like you search for opinions about this film. I think that is awesome. Thanks for reading Amy!!

  14. I think that this is a pretty good explanation of the film. I watched it a few weeks ago on Netflix, and was a bit confused. Thanks for your article!

  15. I saw this movie for the first time last night. I was flipping through my satellite’s guide for something to watch in the late evening and happened across this movie. I had never even heard of this movie beforehand and it had only been rated 1.5 stars. But the movie description made the movie sound interesting from a psychological perspective; so I tuned in to watch the full length of the movie. I am glad I didn’t choose to watch something else! This film is now one of my favorite films, and I definitely must watch it again.

    After the movie, I just couldn’t get it out of my
    head. I kept playing scenes over and over in my head, trying to interpret what I’d seen. Even after I had formed my own interpretation, I was curious as to how others had interpreted the film and whether or not there were any interviews with the writer, screenwriter/film
    adapter, and/or director that would give further insight on the original vision(s) for the film.

    Unfortunately, what I found was an overwhelming majority of “professional” film critics did not like the film. At least one film critic complained that the film had a misogynistic theme (I completely disagree). Most complained that the film was “confusing.” I was completely baffled as to how so many “professional” film critics could completely miss the beauty and artistry of this film!

    As far as the movement of the scenes from “past” to “present,” I did not find this to be confusing at all, as the actors portraying the “past” teen and the “present” adult versions of the characters were different. And the juxtaposition of “past” and “present” scenes were well selected, lending well to the movement of the film and the interpretation of events.

    The only thing that I could understand being labeled as “confusing,” is the interpretation of the film, but I think this was done intentionally for artistic reasons. Any good piece of art will draw the viewer into the piece and cause the viewer to interpret the piece from their own perspective. Too many film-makers today assume their audience is dimwitted and uneducated–incapable of rational thought–and feel compelled to spell everything out. However, this film was created as art should be. A definite theme and story are presented, through both dialogue and pictures, with just enough left open to interpretation by the viewer. And as you point out, Heather, the film also masterfully utilizes symbolism and repeated events to emphasize certain themes, without hitting the viewer over the head with them. (In fact, I didn’t get the “She’s Not There” song relationship until you pointed that out.)

    Specifically regarding the interpretation, though, I believe it hinges on one major question: when does Diane’s “adult life” occur in relation to the “teen life”? I think most will agree that they do not exist on a normal human-development timeline. Nor do I think many would interpret the movie to suggest that the “adult” Diane was somehow able to travel back in time to change the tragic events that occurred to the “teen” Diane in the bathroom that fateful day. So, the viewer must ask himself/herself, if the “adult life” of Diane is 1) imagined by “teen” Diane immediately preceding the shooting in the bathroom, 2) envisioned by “teen” Diane as the lifeblood seeps from the body of Michael’s victim, or 3) experienced by Diane as an “after-life.”

    Based on Heather’s interpretation described above, it sounds as though she leans toward the first alternative–that Diane is completely in control of the vision of what her life may become if she is the one who survives the shooting in the bathroom and uses this knowledge to make her decision in the bathroom. I, on the other hand, lean towards the third alternative. I think it is no coincidence that “teen” Diane tells Maureen that Maureen’s “idyllic future” of getting married and raising a family there in the same town would not be her vision for her future life. So I don’t think the “adult life” portrayed in the film is something Diane would have intentionally projected for herself. And the cheating husband and rebellious, aborted (but somehow living) daughter don’t seem to fit into the second alternative, either. Also, towards the very end (I believe it was right after the shooting in the bathroom), there is a shot of “adult” Diane’s husband walking down the street with a much younger girl (the same scene that earlier resulted in the car accident involving “adult” Diane), who then turns around to face the camera. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the girl was actually “teen” Diane, suggesting to me that her desired affair and marriage to the professor was somehow viewed as being inappropriate or immoral, just as her aborting her daughter was, and thus supports an interpretation of the “adult life” as an “after-life” to which she is “condemned” either by herself (“I do not deserve this.”) or a supreme being (?).

    I’m not saying that either interpretation is correct. As I stated earlier, I think the interpretation is intentionally left up to the viewer. Thanks for sharing your interpretation, Heather! You definitely made me consider some of the film’s events from a different perspective than I had originally.

  16. Thank you for your interpretation of the movie, I agree with all of it. However, why didnt the movie show Maureen getting shot in the end? That made me believe that Diana actually died and that it was Maureen imaging what Diana would have been like, right?

    • Maureen did not actually get shot. Diana actually died and, while she lay dying, she was picturing what her life would have been like had she lived.

  17. thanks for the review Heather; I thought it was excellent & you “got” the movie exactly as it was; you’re very good with words; you should be a writer or editor! Your review clarified the movie for me; thank you!! I just watched it & enjoyed it & realised during the movie, the referals to nature, God, art, etc, but it did take me a while to realise what the movie was about!! So thanks for going to the trouble of writing it all out!!

    • The title gives it away: “The Life before her eyes”. Right before you die they say you see your life passing before you. She is actually the one who got shot and died not her friend. The movie tells you she had an abortion. She picked the baby name Anna with her friend which we saw in the little crosses. And the child in her life flash is also Anna and is always running away from her and she is searching in the woods for her, this represents her feeling of loss over the baby. Also her child tells her “you hate me”. Which is her guilt for aborting the child, that the child would think she hated her that’s why she aborted her, again her guilt. What we see in the whole movie is what passes through her mind the moment before she decides to sacrifice herself. She knows her friend is pure and she feels she is not. In her flash she shows you she feels she is a slut. She’s very critical of herself like she is weighing her own value compared to her friends the whole time. The movie is what her life could have been. She was the woman with her husband only since it never happened because she died that day it was her seeing herself which is the whole premise of the movie, her life passing before her eyes. You notice you never see the friend in her adult life. Also, she tells the woman at the memorial she is “not” one of the survivors. And her mother cries her name in anguish the moment she is shot. Mothers know this type of thing. Her mother knew it was her. I think it was very clear. There is no way a college professor is going to be with a 17 year old girl it was all her fantasy and proof this was just her life and what it could have been passing before her eyes while she made the decision to die so her friend could live.

      • Beautiful clever artistic movie ,yes Diana’s life flashed before her eyes before she made her choice to die over her best friend Maureen for reasons as already been suggested by viewers ,however I think Diana believed she was infinitive and life dosnt just end when the body dies ,lots of examples show this in young Diana s life her deep interest in what the professor had to say about life ,conscienceness ,imagination,etc,water is a strong theme in the film, conversations between herself and Maureen about life and water how we are made up mostly of it and that it is ever giving life ,new life ,Diana had these beliefs and because of this it made her less fearful of her decision to end her life in the one she had known it .she projected her own fears of what life would of been like for her if she had of lived the life of an adult Diana which was one of guilt and a feeling of not worthy ,Diana as a teen was like a butterfly wild and free ,she had a beautiful heart and was a deep thinker behind her carefree attitude which would have surfaced if she had of lived but would of been bittersweet and feelings of guilt over her abortion and also not being able to live with the fact that she chose herself to live as Diana in her present life .dianna believed in infinity .love the film a masterpiece of art .thankyou .

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