Teenage Wildlife

Mr Rice's Secret

A review by Kristin Machina

Today, 7/23/00, was the NY premiere of Mr. Rice's Secret at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. SUNY Stony Brook has been having a week long film festival featuring "Titus", "Cider House Rules", "All About My Mother" and many unreleased films and short films. "Mr. Rice's Secret" was one of 3 "spotlight" features. Tickets were $4 for each film, and $30 for the whole festival (I just paid for this one movie). Anyhow, the film runs for about 90 minutes, and Bowie gets about 20 minutes film time (sorry). However small his role was, it was crucial to the movie (hence the title, duh!)

The film isn't one of these squeakie-clean kiddie movies--this would probably get a PG rating--some strong language, themes of death and illness (especially children being terminally ill) and some little ones may find a certain exhumation scene (original title: Exhuming Mr. Rice) a little too much to take. Don't worry-it's not graphic, but again, little kids...

The film opens with Mr. Rice giving Owen, a boy suffering from Hodgkin's, a beautiful silver decoder ring. Next scene, Owen's parents prepare to attend Mr. Rice's funeral. We get the feeling that Mr. Rice was a beloved, wise, generous member of the community who strangely has no family of his own. To Owen, he was his mentor and best friend. Owen, against his father's wishes, sneaks into the funeral and videotapes it from the balcony. We learn his group of "friends" compete against each other form points--a funeral on tape earns substantial points--sneaking into Mr. Rice's house at night earns even more. But what Owen finds in the old house is a letter, addressed to him, a journal, and several old photographs (the boys assume it's old relatives) dating back at least to the Civil War. The letter and journal are in code. The ring cracks the code, leading to the number of a man, who apparently slipped something valuable (and something Mr. Rice wants Owen to find) in the coffin. Owen must then get into the coffin, to ultimately find out the secret to Mr. Rice's long life...

The movie mostly deals with Owen's fear of dying. He has a friend, Simon, who has leukemia, who Owen both confides in and is ashamed to be around. Simon, the creepy undertaker, even a blue suit hanging in his closet, all remind Owen of death. He just wants to be a normal boy--playing street hockey, getting into mischief with his friends, trying out for baseball. Remember when you were a child, and there might have been something about you that set you apart, and might have made you feel like an outcast. Cancer was not only threatenig Owen's health, but his emotional and social health as well.

I know what you must be saying by now: That's nice, but how was Bowie??? However brief and intermittent his screen time was (we mostly see him through a couple of flashbacks), he stil gives a fine performance. He portrays this kindly, incredibly wise old man (395 years old is still old), and yet he looks...50-ish. Charming gray highlights to his hair and a short, stubbly beard. In one scene, Owen says, "I wish I could live forever." Mr. Rice sighs, looks up and says sadly, "No you don't." The message of the movie is it's not how long you live, it's how you live your life. I won't give up the ending, hopefully you'll see it for yourself, but Owen must make a choice between how long he wants to live and what he does in his lifetime.

So "Exhuming Mr. Rice" would have been too narrow a title--it only describes one particular event in the movie, but in the closing credits, it still has it's original title. The movie isn't so much about exposing the truth about Mr. Rice, but about the very special gift he left behind (and not just the glowing vile of life potion that made his live for 4 centuries).

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This document last updated Thursday, 14-Dec-2000 15:12:33 EST
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