Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
Disappearance of a loved one
Anxiety-ridden mother / agoraphobia / agoraphobic / hates leaving the house due to internal anxiety
What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer
Selfishness versus true love
A mother that hates people in general, especially the other parents at her daughter’s school
Discovering mother’s troubled past
Reconnecting with one’s creative passions
Taking a leap of faith
Importance of controlling one’s tongue
|Featuring:||Cate Blanchett … Bernadette Fox
Emma Nelson … Bee Branch
Billy Crudup … Elgie
Judy Greer … Dr. Kurtz
Kristen Wiig … Audrey
Troian Bellisario … Becky
Laurence Fishburne … Paul Jellinek
Steve Zahn … David Walker
Megan Mullally … Judy Toll
Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson … Captain J. Rouverol
Claudia Doumit … Iris
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See all »
In the first lines of voiceover narration for “Where'd You Go, Bernadette,” a teen tells us that there is an Evolutionary “flaw” in the design of the human brain. She goes on to explain how people can lose their joy because they fear imagined dangers. In this brief statement, I sensed the direction in which this movie would go. Although “Where'd You Go, Bernadette” is a well-acted and technically sound film, it embraces a humanistic worldview in which lasting joy is something humanly attainable, self-discovery is the ultimate goal, and God is not worth mentioning, unless it is to use His name in vain.
Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is a wife and mother struggling with agoraphobia and depression. She and her work-driven computer genius husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and vivacious teenage daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) live in a deteriorating old house in an affluent Seattle neighborhood.
As Bee gets her parents to agree to take a month-long family vacation to a distant land, we see that Bernadette’s mental state is in just as much disrepair as their crumbling home.
It can be difficult to watch someone’s life spiral out of control, even if it is just a character in a film. Although I struggle with social anxiety myself, I initially found it hard to like or empathize with Bernadette. Her scathing tongue and abrupt demeanor seem to go beyond anxiety and into the realm of ugly bitterness. She seems completely self-absorbed and unfeeling toward everyone except her husband and her daughter.
This relationship with her daughter Bee is what kept me emotionally invested in this movie long enough that I began to finally have some sympathy toward Bernadette. She clearly loves her daughter, and the moments between them are believably tender and moving. Bee seems to be the only person who truly understands her mother, and, indeed, she is at times her only defender. And as often happens when a marital relationship becomes strained, this child struggles to bridge the widening gap between her parents. Young Emma Nelson has an excellent debut performance.
As the movie progresses, we get more glimpses into who Bernadette is and what has shaped her into this unhappy state. Most of these come through rambling exposition by Bernadette herself, as she narrates lengthy email messages or dissolves into bitter rants as the date for their departure nears.
Cate Blanchett does an amazing job of becoming this unlikeable and unlovely character. In the hands of other actresses, minutes of pure exposition narrating an email message could become boring, but Blanchett is captivating.
But despite such good acting, it is not necessarily an enjoyable film to watch. Many will find the pacing too slow in the first half and the conclusion downright unbelievable. There is a point in which the movie shifts from a nuanced character study into the realm of the ridiculous—with outlandish situations. After carefully crafting such detailed and believable characters, it is a shame to see them thrown into completely unbelievable scenarios.
The trailers for this film portrayed it as a light-hearted “mysterious comedy,” but although there is some humor, this is not really a fun film and is even less of a mystery.
“Where'd You Go, Bernadette” is based upon a popular novel by the same name. Since I have never read it, I can only guess at how it will be received or if the film has the flavor of the book. Director Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused”) takes his usual route of exploring the “human condition” through disillusioned characters. In an interview, Linklater said that he hoped that this movie would be uplifting to the viewers. Perhaps it could to those who ascribe to a humanistic worldview, but seen through the eyes of one who knows what true hope and joy can be. I found it to be rather depressing.
It is definitely not an edifying film for a follower of Christ. There is no mention of faith or purpose beyond the here and now. A humanistic worldview permeates, with the only hope for joy being self-discovery and personal fulfillment. Bee says that in caring for and serving others, Bernadette has lost who she really is. The implication is that her commitment to motherhood at the cost of her creativity has taken away her joy. This is despite showing the husband in a negative light for spending too much time at his own career.
Bee is portrayed as a well-balanced, compassionate teenager because of the love and time that her mother selflessly poured into her. I found a disconnect here. Why is it a negative thing for one parent to commit to creativity and career at the expense of family, but positive for the other to do so? The takeaway message for many will be that setting aside our own desires to serve others can leave one depressed and unfulfilled, so we should just be who we are and do what we love to do.
The film seems to have a high view of self-fulfillment and a low view of motherhood, yet Bernadette’s relationship with her daughter is the most beautiful part of the movie. Bernadette’s artistic creations (as amazing as they might be) will eventually all be torn down and replaced. Nothing can replace the love and time she poured into her child. Yet, we are supposed to cheer for this woman as she abandons her family to seek fulfillment.
Bernadette also finds herself emotionally crippled by a fear of failure. She admits, “Failure has got its teeth in me.” Through exposition and something akin to flashbacks, we learn of the many losses Bernadette faced in the years leading up to her depression. These do serve to humanize Bernadette’s character, but there is still just a deep sense of melancholy here for me as a believer. Grief and loss can serve to build and strengthen an individual and do not always have to end with a character being torn down by despair and bitterness. Again, it is a difference in worldviews. Bernadette’s reaction to loss may resonate with secular viewers. But, as a believer in Christ, I found myself wishing that I could tell her that all of those trials could serve to grow her instead of defeat her.
What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer
One thing that I think this movie does do well is to show that there can be a difference between what we do and how others perceive it. In the first half of the film, Bernadette continually makes decisions that seem rational at the time, but which are later interpreted by others as being unreasonable or even dangerous. For example, Bernadette has poured all of her prescription medications into a glass jar because it creates a colorful effect which pleases her artistic and creative whims, but others see her jar of medications as a warning sign that a depressed person is hoarding pills. Although frustrating at times, these little moments are cleverly executed and show how what we do can be misperceived.
Another positive besides this and the solid acting by the cast is the cinematography. One can tell that much effort was made to give the “feel” of Seattle. Near the end, there is great scope and opportunity for beautiful scenery which is not wasted.
These positives don’t redeem the movie for me. The silliness of the conclusion is enough to cancel out all the rest. I also left unsatisfied and frustrated that many viewers will see what they believe is “truth” (a false worldview) in this movie. If you should choose to view it, be prepared to be discerning about the worldview that is presented.
What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer
How can we know there’s a God? Answer
Is the religion of Secular Humanism being taught in public school classrooms? Answer
Language: Language is heavy, with many multiple misuses of God’s name (including “Jesus Christ”) and strong language throughout. Both Bernadette and her daughter Bee use the f-word in an argument with someone. The dialog also includes multiple uses of h*ll, d*mn, s-words, a**, cr*p, ba*tard, and b*tch.
Violence: When a car speeds away a woman who is approaching it stumbles, and she implies that her foot was run over. A home is partially destroyed.
Other: Characters drink alcohol. Bernadette seeks strong prescription medication for anxiety and motion sickness. Characters fear that she may be hoarding prescription pills for suicide. We learn that Bee’s full name is actually the name of a Hindu god.
While I believe that the filmmakers fully intended “Where'd You Go, Bernadette” to be a thoughtful and hopeful piece on human self-discovery and fulfillment, I did not come away with a feeling of hope. I just felt a deep sense of sadness for these characters, knowing that they reflect the only “hope” that many people will ever experience. This movie portrays a flawed understanding of what fulfillment and joy really are. These are not found in what we do (or don’t do), but in who we are in Christ.
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer
Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on Christian Answers—full-length motion picture.
What is the meaning of life? To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him. The Scriptures principally teach, what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of us.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.