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  • Stone | Review

    By | October 9, 2010

    Director: John Curran

    Writer: Angus MacLachlan

    Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, Frances Conroy

    Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro), a parole officer who is on the verge of retirement, has only a few remaining cases on his docket; one of whom is Gerald Creeson — he prefers “Stone” (Edward Norton). Convicted as an accessory to arson and the murder of his grandparents, Stone has served a majority of his sentence but he desires early parole nonetheless. It is up to Jack to recommend Stone’s parole and the two men find themselves stubbornly locked in debate meeting time and time again but seemingly making little progress.

    At home, Jack is trapped in a loveless marriage of 43 long years to his wife Madylyn (Frances Conroy). Madylyn buries her head in her Bible while Jack imbibes in his booze and watches golf on the television. The shocking opening prologue clearly explains why Madylyn hates Jack — it also causes the audience to be less forgiving of him as well.

    In other words, Jack and Stone are both serving out prison sentences; one figuratively and one literally. Jack chose his life sentence in rural seclusion with a wife who no longer loves him. Stone, on the other hand, came by his prison time the old fashioned way, he earned it.

    When Stone confides to Jack that his wife Lucetta (Milla Jovovich) is from another world (meaning her sexual perversions — of course she is a grade school teacher) his frankness is a means to entice Jack to meet Lucetta — and Lucetta thus commences stalking Jack. Jack appears to catch on to their game rather quickly, repeatedly rejecting Lucetta’s seductively whispered advances; but Lucetta’s powers of persuasion eventually break Jack down reeling him in to a burning moral quagmire of blazing proportions.

    All the while, Stone discovers Eckankar — a new age-y religion of sound — which reveals to Stone some new insights into the human condition. At first Stone’s newly discovered spirituality seems like a ploy for an early release (Jack’s propensity for Christian AM talk radio leads me to believe that he would not recognize Stone’s beliefs in Eckankar to be a redeeming transformation) but Stone seems truly convinced that Eckankar offers the answers that he has been searching for. (According to Eckankar, individuals are responsible for their own destiny; in other words, one’s decisions determine one’s future.) Stone’s spirituality begins to complicate the terms of his release, especially knowing full well the dirty deeds that his wife has done to get him out.

    The women of this story (Madylyn and Lucetta), each possessing their own unwavering views of God, are critical to the propulsion of the narrative. By way of repulsion (prompting their husbands to rebel against them), they effectively alter their husbands’ life tragectories. If it were not for Madylyn and Lucetta, Stone and Jack would probably still be in Jack’s office engaged in a pissing contest or a staring duel.

    Where some viewers (and critics) may see inconsistent characterizations, I see the shape-shifting personalities of characters who constantly adapt in order to get by. Many of the characters’ personality traits seem flawed or exaggerated because, more than likely, the trait is just a facade or bait or a smoke screen.

    Angus MacLachlan’s script exists in a realm of utter greyness — nothing is clearly black or white, evil or good. If we believe his story, Stone has lost a decade of his life just for being near a double murder (and then participating in the cover up). To paraphrase Stone: why are his crimes any worse than the horrible things that Jack has done? What qualifies Jack to be the prison’s gatekeeper, the person who Stone and other inmates must pass through in order to obtain parole? (Or to paraphrase the Bible: what gives any human being the right to cast stones at another?)

    Directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), Stone is a weighty cogitation on the nature(s) of evil and the justness of punishment(s). Stone is by no means a thriller or a prison movie, instead it is a very slow burn leaving the audience with countless questions to ponder after exiting the theater.

    Spiritual faith is a major issue here, specifically the relentless challenges that are intertwined with religious beliefs. Just as in our real world, Christian talk radio is used as a constant commentary on the narrative; a constant buzz-buzz-buzzing in the ear. In clever juxtaposition to the narrative, the voices from the AM radio are quite self-assured and their statements are unrealistically absolute. They is no greyness in the realm of Christian talk radio; it is all, quite simply, black and white.

    Rating: 6.5/10

    Topics: Film Reviews, News | 13 Comments »

    • Dave

      Interesting thing, though. Although I certainly recognized it as Eckankar, and everything they were describing was Eckankar, in the screening I saw, They changed the name to “Zuckangor.” That’s what was on the brochure, they changed the Living Eck Master’s name from Harold to Arnold.

      Did you actually see a version of the film where they actually referred to Eckankar by name?

    • Dave Campbell

      Thanks for filling in those blanks for me. I saw the same one that you saw, but forgot to jot down that they called it “Zuckangor”.

    • Don Simpson

      I honestly couldn’t remember whether Eckankar was called by its actual name in the film or not. I assumed that it was (because why would they change it?) and used its actual name in my review.

      I figured that someone would catch that if I had gotten it wrong! So, thanks for the comment! Nice catch!!!

      I’m very curious why they would have changed the name, but kept the philosophy exactly the same.

    • Dave Campbell

      Per the Q&A with Ed Norton that I saw at Fantastic Fest, he wouldn’t mention Eckankar by name on stage, but instead gave hints. He also gave some kind of cryptic answer to why they didn’t use the actual name in the film and choose to make one up.

    • wernertrp

      Ein Besuch im Zoo.

      Gestern, da war ich bei Eckankar, da habe ich Leute getroffen,
      die haben mir erzählt, sie hätten mit Gott gesprochen.
      Sie haben ihn viel gefragt und bekamen zur Antwort,
      in einer Suppe mit Buchstaben und Zahlen zusammen
      gerührt, die Fragen auf jedwede Antwort.
      Nachdem sie das alles gegessen, sind sie jetzt nicht mehr
      versessen auf Buchstabensuppe und gemischten Salat.
      Sie schicken ihr Gehirn jetzt auf Reisen, das spart ihnen
      viel Mühe beim verreisen der Seelen zu fernen Orten,
      im hintersten Winkel, wo alle Gedanken verrotten.
      Sie haben den ältesten Meister, in langer Linie reist er
      seit vielen Generationen durch Welten und lange Äonen.
      Jetzt hat er sich niedergelassen und tut ihre Tantiemen verprassen.
      Erfindet bald neue Geschichten, mit denen kann er Gedanken schichten,
      zuhauf zu einem riesigen Turm, den alle versuchen zu besteigen.
      Doch manche bleiben lieber unten im Reigen und manche im Regen

    • Billie Duffey

      I just have to see this movie! Robert DeNiro singing HU! lol! I am an ECKist! Can’t wait to see it for myself!

    • wernertrp


    • wernertrp

      Jordan Maxwell about Hollywood:

    • Fred

      wonderful to see hint of truth by different angles and with view of religious or spiritual minorities. I think there is more truth containing while less bigotry evolve.

    • Roland

      Eckenkar, like others, plays upon the brains desire for explanations of the unknown. This “God Part of the Brain,” has been manipulated by electronic stimulus, and can conjure up images and beliefs based upon the firing of the synapses and the neuron transmitters. This is partly biochemical and electrical. The human brain can latch on to any belief depending upon how it affects the serotonin levels in the brain. So it would not be surprising that Scientology, Mormonism, Church of Christ Scientist, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witness, The Family (Children of God), Heaven’s Gate, People’s Temple, Christian Fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and other cults can mass hypnotize their congregation by verbally stimulating a part of the cerebral cortex. This along with imagery and sound can alter the biochemistry of the brain and cause people to hallucinate. The CIA has practiced this methodology with their MKULTRA program, and extreme examples have been shown in sci-fi films like “A Clockwork Orange.”

    • Harrison

      It’s obvious that the producers, writers and director of this film failed to do their due diligence and check their facts before promoting another cult. But what else can we expect from the vapid people who are the backbone of Hollywood? If they did do their homework, they would have easily discovered that Eckankar is a new age cult that was founded by Paul Twitchell, a noted plagiarist. To find the plagiarisms is easy, as Twitchell stole writings from a number of sources then claimed them to be his own experiences and wisdom. This inexcusable reality makes eckankar hard to swallow, and the fact that the current sociopath, Harold Klemp, who calls himself a prophen, continues to promote Twitchell’s work makes him as culpable as, say, Tom Cruise who peddles Scientology at every turn when it is equally as bogus in its claims. But at least L.Ron Hubbard authored his own works. Eckankar is a joke, but not a big joke, so this is probably why it was not investigated prior to wasting a lot of money on this film.

    • Sharon

      For more information about eckankar, see:

      Haven’t seen the movie but it looks good!

      Former members of the cult Eckankar are concerned that this film might be promoting ekult and encouraging people to join. Please watch the video & do a websearch if you find yourself attracted to it. Yes, the cult recruits in prisons and anywhere else they can place their brochures or hang posters, or give deceptive intro lectures in public places. It’s all about recruiting new members. They claim they don’t recruit, but actions speak louder than words.

      Back in the late 80’s or early 90’s, ekult announced that longtime members (high initiates) could become official “clergy”. Many were disturbed because ekult claims to be non-heirarchal – although once again, what they say and what they do are two different things. At the time, a “high initiate” told me the “official clergy” designation was created simply to make it easier for eckist “vahanas” (missionaries) to gain access to prisons, hospitals, etc.

    • Vashti_thomas

      ECKANKAR is absolutely NOT a cult. I myself am an Eckist. When a spiritual teaching is all positive, why knock it. Just like Christianity, we cannot be responsible for actions of all members. As a rule, we do not profess our beliefs and try to sway anyone. If asked for information, we provide it. Here’s my question, is Christianity a cult because bibles are available wherever you go (ie hotel nightstands) or because they minister to prisoners??
      I hesitated replying like my spiritual beliefs need defending but I decided to do it because there was not anything positive written…so much negativity. Hoped maybe a different perspective from an actual person practicing this religion would be heard also.

      In Love & Gratitude
      May the Blessings Be