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Case Number 11132

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Aurora Borealis

Liberation Entertainment // 2005 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 3rd, 2007

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All Rise...

Imagine Judge Joel Pearce's surprise when this didn't turn out to be a Discovery Channel special on the Northern Lights.

The Charge

Love is the hardest job to hold.

Opening Statement

Far more than the usual indie coming of age drama, Aurora Borealis is a very pleasant surprise. It carefully juggles the struggle of coming to terms with being an adult with the struggle to deal with old age. It's unique, heartfelt, and genuine; everything you could ask for in a film from the genre.

Facts of the Case

Duncan (Joshua Jackson, Dawson's Creek) is 25 years old, and really should get settled into a steady life soon. He wanders from job to job, unable to find a place that suits him. When his aging grandparents move into an apartment nearby, he hesitantly agrees to visit them. He finds that his grandmother (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is still in excellent health, but his grandfather (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job) is suffering from Parkinson's, and his mind is starting to deteriorate. Duncan accepts a job at the building to be close to them, and in the process meets wild spirit Kate (Juliette Lewis, From Dusk Till Dawn), with whom he immediately clicks. He has a lot to work through, though, as he's still trying to come to terms with his father's death. Now, he's going to get a crash course in adult life.

The Evidence

A lot of indie directors feel obligated to do highly personal films about people in their 20s, dealing with troubles they face when pressing forward into adulthood. Is it because so many indie directors have just passed that stage themselves, and have just now taken on enough responsibility to produce a feature film? I'm not sure, but I have seen enough of them to know that they are usually not nearly as unique as these filmmakers think they are. This is one of the reasons that Aurora Borealis is such a revelation. It truly is a unique and personal film, one that forces us to confront the same issues as the characters.

And the characters are impressive. We get frustrated with Duncan, but he's not so childish that we can't connect with him. I think most of us have a friend like Duncan; a guy who we wish would grow up, but just never makes the good decisions that would allow him a real entrance to adulthood. Joshua Jackson delivers his finest performance here, with the promise that he will be capable of much richer roles in the future. Both Donald Sutherland and Louise Fletcher also deliver stellar performances in well-written roles. The sick are so often dehumanized in films: a character becomes a cancer patient or an autistic savant. Here, the grandfather is a fully developed human being, who struggles with Parkinson's and the onset of Alzheimer's. I've seen my own grandpa struggle through the pain and frustration of losing control with "the a-bomb," and I was able to recognize it here. The conflict between him and the grandmother are painfully real as well. Juliette Lewis was a strange choice for Kate, but she works well in the role.

The sincerity of the conflict is shocking and upsetting, as we are pulled into the struggles that Duncan has with his brother and his friends. Scenes will immediately strike anyone who has had awkward family dinners and the gradual distance that grows between friends. These scenes are eerily silent, with painful pauses that drag us into the conflict. Aurora Borealis doesn't pull any punches with the issues, so viewers can expect to be confronted by some very challenging moments. These are juxtaposed well with humor, which is sensitive and human in nature. While we spend a lot of time jarred back and forth between laughs and pain, it never feels manufactured as it does in so many other films. In fact, I'm tempted to say that Aurora Borealis offers us the best of both worlds. It has the energy and edginess of an indie drama combined with the polish and production values of a studio picture. It deals with challenging issues without being preachy, and it deals brilliantly with issues that effect the young and old alike. Few films can manage this kind of tightrope walk, but it's exciting to see a film actually pull it off. For that alone, Aurora Borealis is worth watching.

The disc has also been well produced. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio, anamorphically enhanced. While it doesn't have the glossy sheen of a high-budget production, it never feels cheaply produced. Detail and color balance are good, and I noticed no video flaws. The primary sound track is 5.1, with clear dialogue in the fronts, good ambient mixing and properly mixed music. I actually checked at one point to see whether a large studio had released the DVD. It's one of the best indie transfers I've seen. There aren't many extras on the disc, but there is an isolated music score and some interviews to check out. Liberation Entertainment has done a fine job with this disc.

Closing Statement

It's hard to go wrong with Aurora Borealis. Touching family drama, strong coming-of-age story, heartfelt love story, gutsy portrait of aging—so much is accomplished in a two hour running time. If you've never given indie films a fair shot, this would be a great place to start. It is compelling evidence that truly great film entertainment doesn't have to come from multinational corporations, or cost $80 million to produce. In fact, Aurora Borealis does it better.

The Verdict

Not guilty, and I hope to not see Duncan charged with any more crimes.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 40
Acting: 97
Story: 94
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Liberation Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Drama
• Independent

Distinguishing Marks

• Isolated Music Score
• Interviews


• IMDb
• Official Site

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