21 Grams

21 Grams

name = 21 Grams

writer = Guillermo Arriaga
starring = Sean Penn,
Naomi Watts,
Benicio del Toro
director = Alejandro González Iñárritu
producer = Alejandro González Iñárritu,
Robert Salerno
music = Gustavo Santaolalla
editing = Stephen Mirrione
distributor = Focus Features
released = September 5, 2003
runtime = 124 minutes
language = English
budget = ~ US$20,000,000
imdb_id = 0315733

"21 Grams" is a 2003 drama directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro.

Like Arriaga's and González Iñárritu's previous movie, "Amores perros" (2000), "21 Grams" is a movie which interweaves several plot lines, this time around the consequences of a tragic automobile accident. Penn plays a critically ill academic mathematician, Watts plays a grief-stricken mother, and del Toro plays an born-again Christian ex-convict whose faith is sorely tested in the aftermath of an accident.

The movie was shot in chronological order, but is edited in a non-linear arrangement where the lives of the characters are depicted before and after the accident. The three main characters each have 'past' 'present' and 'future' story threads, which are shown as non-linear fragments that punctuate elements of the overall story, all imminently coming toward each other and coalescing as the story progresses.


As previously mentioned, the film is edited in a non-linear manner. The following is a linear, chronological summary of the plot:

Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) is a former convict who is using his newfound religious faith to recover from drug addiction and alcoholism. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematics professor with a fatal heart condition who has less than a month to live unless he receives a new heart from an organ donor. Paul's wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants him to donate his sperm so she can have a baby (presumably after his death). The two are civil to one another, yet distant.

Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is also a recovering drug addict, and now lives a normal suburban life with a supportive husband and two children. She is a loving mother and active swimmer who left her days of drugs and booze behind.

These three separate stories/characters become tied together one evening when Jack runs over Cristina's husband and children with his truck in a hit-and-run accident, killing them. Her husband's heart is donated to Paul, who begins his recovery.

Cristina is devastated by the loss and turns to the drugs (2CB and ketamine) along with alcohol to ease her suffering. Paul is excited about starting his new life and hesitantly agrees to his wife's idea of surgery and artificial insemination as a last-ditch effort to get pregnant. During consultations with a doctor before the surgery, Paul learns that his wife had aborted their child previously when the pair had just separated. Angered, Paul ends the marriage, then becomes very inquisitive about whose heart he has. He learns from a source that the heart belonged to Cristina's husband. He begins to follow the widowed Cristina around town.

Jack, meanwhile, is stricken with guilt following the accident. Despite his wife's protests to keep quiet and conceal his guilt, Jack tells her that his "duty is to God" and turns himself in. Incarcerated in a dilapidated jail cell, he claims that God betrayed him and, soon enough, loses his will to live, trying unsuccessfully to commit suicide. He is released after Cristina declines to press charges, as she realizes that putting Jack in prison will not bring her family back. When Jack is released, he is unable to reincorporate himself into his normal family life, instead leaving home to lead a transient existence. He works a manual labor job and burns off his newer tattoos (of a Christian nature) with a hot knife.

Paul uses an opportunity to meet with Cristina and he eventually reveals how the two of them are connected. Desperately needing one another, they begin to fall in love. Though Paul has a new heart, his body is rejecting the surgery - and Paul's outlook is grim. As Cristina begins to dwell more on her changed life and the death of her girls, she decides Jack must die. She goads Paul into helping to murder him.

Paul meets with the person who originally tracked down Cristina for him and finds out information about Jack from him. He also purchases a gun from him. Then, he and Cristina check into a small-town motel where Jack is also staying, as he is working nearby. When Jack is walking alone, Paul grabs him and leads him out into a clearing at gunpoint, with the intention of killing him. Paul is unable to kill Jack, who himself is confused, shaking and pleading during the happening. Paul tells Jack to "just disappear" then returns back to the motel, lying to Cristina about Jack's "death." Later that night, while they are sleeping, Paul and Cristina are awakened by a knock on the door. It's Jack, who, still consumed by guilt and inner torment, orders Paul to kill him and end his misery. There is a struggle, and Cristina blind-sides Jack and begins beating him with a wooden lamp. Paul shoots himself as he is having a heart attack and doesn't want to die from asphyxia.

Jack and Cristina rush Paul to the hospital. Jack tries to convince the police that he shot Paul, but is released due to contradicting statements by everybody involved and lack of evidence, despite him insisting his guilt. The conflict between Cristina and Jack remains unresolved (they meet in the waiting room after Paul's death, but do not speak). Cristina learns in the hospital that she is pregnant. After Paul's death, Cristina is seen tentatively preparing for the new child and Jack is shown returning home to his family.


The movie was nominated in the 2003 Academy Awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Benicio del Toro) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Naomi Watts).



The title of the movie comes from the work of Dr. Duncan MacDougall, who in the early 1900s sought to measure the weight purportedly lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death. MacDougall weighed dying patients in an attempt to prove that the soul was material, tangible and thus measurable. These experiments are widely considered to have little, if any, scientific merit, and MacDougall's results varied considerably from 21 grams, but for some people this figure has become synonymous with the measure of a soul's mass. [cite web| url=http://www.snopes.com/religion/soulweight.asp| title= Snopes.com]

See also

*Hyperlink cinema - the film style of using multiple inter-connected story lines.


External links

* [http://www.21-grams.com/ Official website]
* [http://www.theasc.com/magazine/dec03/cover/index.html Article on the cinematography of 21 Grams] from American Cinematographer
* [http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2004/05/13/1105956.htm?site=science/greatmomentsinscience The science behind 21 Grams]

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