As one of the latest anticipated adaptions this year, Ron Rash’s same titled novel sees Serena on the big screen. Directed by Susanne Bier and starring, for the third time, duo Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, Serena is a compelling drama telling the tale of a young fragile woman who holds on to her ambitions and dreams as if clinging for dear life.
The story follows Serena and her intertwining life with George Pembleton. Through the loss of her family, seeds of guilt are planted and the obsessive drive for a new family burns stronger. Do not be mistaken however, this is not a film about falling in love but rather an exploration of the importance of family relations, the entrapment of marriage, betrayal, and a lack of control that is endured by all humans.
There is an immediate divergence in this film, as newly-weds, from Lawrence and Cooper’s previous roles. If audiences can overlook the duos comic and dystopian filmographies, perhaps the sincerity and sombre tone of their characters, Serena and George, can be taken seriously. Based on a true story, the film is weighted by its thought-provoking ability, encouraging that it not only be judged independently, on own merits and faults, but that Lawrence and Cooper’s performers too be perceived outside the synonymity of their chemistry in Silver Linings Playbook . There is certainly little to dance about in Serena. In its lingering sense of futility and depression when the credits roll, it stimulates a wondering of what, if anything, could have prevented the tragedy. The discomfort in its sadness is however counterbalanced by the alternative outlook on relationships and the future which the film simultaneously explores. For 109 minutes audiences are placed in an empathic role, stepping into Serena’s life and seeing through the maternal fog that consumes her world view. Her raw motherly instincts in longing for a child will confront even the most reluctant audience members in contemplating their own parental responsibility, even evoking a subdued moment of gratitude for the parents who made their own world views possible.
What might surprise viewers however is the film’s thriller nuance, complimented with the abundant use of blood and all things squeamish. For those who prefer refraining from this stylistic form of horror, feel relieved in the acknowledgement that you may look away, or shut your eyes entirely, and still enjoy the film. The narrative twists however may be best observed wide-eyed, as the plot is complexly layered, encouraging the audience to play Sherlock Holmes while never really being allowed in on what’s to come – a true-to-life element of Serena. Life is unpredictable and so is this film.
If you want to enjoy your evening, be happy and not think, then choose another film. If you are however intrigued by the complex social and inherently human issues Serena tackles, then have a box of tissues next to you and go ahead, just be prepared to do some heavy thinking afterwards.