We all can snap like 'Bernie' even an actor like me - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

We all can snap like ‘Bernie’ even an actor like me

I love films.

I think if I ever gave up acting and writing, I could make a decent film critic.  The best films are the films that speak truth through the ages.  Their stories span over decades, offering the same morals, conviction and consolation to every generation following the initial one reached.  They’re the films you can watch over and over again and always glean something new from them.

Good films, while they don’t span generations, still speak an eloquent, essential truth to the current public.  You may not watch them over and over, but you’re always glad you watched them a first time.

A good film I came across recently was Bernie, starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine.  Bernie is a self-titled dark comedy about a man (Jack Black) who befriends a very difficult, ornery, and – well – witchy old lady (Shirley MacLaine).  This friendship turns slaveship and Bernie, under the strain of the relationship, seemingly snaps and kills his friend (slave driving witch!).  Then he puts her body in the freezer (he’s a mortician, after all, and wants to give her a proper burial eventually).

The whole thing is shot in a mockumentary style, coasting along in a way that you think must resolve like cornball Snow White would with talking animals and dwarfs for friends … but as soon as Slave Driver Witchface gets shot, the plateau shakes like an earthquake and a whole new who-dunnit unravels, making the mockumentary less mocking and more truthful than ever.  Because that’s what it’s based on – a true story.

The thing that struck me the most about this film is the humanity of it.  We get to know Bernie.  We see him burying the dead at work, singing at church, enjoying his hobbies – flying planes and performing in community musicals.  We see Bernie as the nicest guy with the best intentions.  And then he shoots an old lady in the back – and no one in the town can believe it.

Walking away from the theater, I found myself, like the rest of Bernie’s hometown, on his side.  I was thinking thoughts like, “He should have hid the body like this or gotten rid of it like that …”  And then I realized:  If a nice guy like Bernie can kill an old lady, so can I.  Because I’m a human and I mean well.  I’d like to think I have the best intentions in most situations … and I’m just as capable of murder as Bernie was.  Such a hard, terrifying truth.

We all snap, don’t we?  And it depends on our situation and our environment that dictates how we’ll react.  Sometimes we use our words and fling insults.  Sometimes we throw objects in our near vicinity, like oranges, remote controllers, or, in my case, at age seven I threw a deck of cards at a family member’s face.  In Bernie’s case, he lost it and there was a gun right there.  He took it and fired four shots.

When we lose it, we’re given a choice.  Bernie makes you question how you’d react when given that choice and reveals that your answer – although perhaps obvious from the outside – may not actually hold up under pressure.


About the author

Jana Stambaugh

Jana (it rhymes with “banana” or “anna”) is an artist from Clarksville, Maryland. Growing up her parents always told her to “be whatever you want to be.” Seeing as she has come from three generations of doctors, she obviously became an artist. As an actor, she has performed internationally Off-Broadway, and locally to the Baltimore/DC area. Favorite roles include Juliet, Ariel, and Caliban. Jana is the Founder of Red Connect Online, a social media marketing company that creates customized advertising campaigns for small businesses. You can listen to her podcast, Confessions of a Closet Christian, on the E-Squared Media Network. You can also follow her on Twitter (@Jana_Stambaugh) and friend her on Facebook. Contact the author.
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