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Director: John Sayles

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, David Strathairn, Vanessa Martinez, Casey Siemaszko, Leo Burmester, Rita Taggart, Kathryn Grody, and Kris Kristofferson

Length: 126 min

MPAA Rating: R for language

Released: 1999

lim-bo n. pl limbos 1 often cap:

1. the dwelling place of forgotten souls.
2. a state of oblivion or neglect.
2. a place or state of arrested possibilities.
4. a condition of uneasiness or apprehension.
5. a condition of unknowable outcome.

He wakes up: alone and disoriented. He manages to find escape for himself, but not for his friends. He has lost them. Itís his fault, regardless of what others tell him. From that day forward, he quits living. Any possible future for him ends because his life is suspended in that moment of time where he goes on losing his friends over and over and over again. Forever on he will wake up alone and disoriented. Joe Gastineau (Strathairn) is in Limbo.

She sings angelically about her loveís labor and her quiet sorrow. She loves the way it brings her to a state of near grace, but no one understands it. She has been singing all her life, but there is no fame or fortune in it for her: just the passion. She wanders the world in order to struggle a living with her voice for her and her daughter. There is no future for her. Donna De Angelo (Mastrantonio) is in Limbo.

Vanessa Martinez
She has no life that she can see. She lives nowhere long enough to make friends or to find love. She hates herself. She is in despair. She lives outside the circle of regulars who donít even notice that she exists; though she believes they all see her and loathe her. She writes the stories that tell the tale of her isolation, but people only believe that she is quaint and peculiar, not lost utterly in her loneliness. She hates her mother but cannot help but to love her. Noelle De Angelo (Martinez) is in Limbo.

Juneau, Alaska is a perfect place for people like these to lose themselves: figuratively and metaphorically. Yet sometimes, in an effort to stay lost people can find themselves found, even more so when that effort relies on an incredible risk of unknowable outcome. This is the entire premise of John Sayles beautiful story of three lonely people who are lost and too frightened to be found. In order for salvation to make its mark with these three, they have to fight their way out of their limbos, but it isnít easy.

Limbo speaks to me in a way that I have never been spoken to before. It doesnít reach into my heart and play with the strings that can either cause happiness or sadness, but rather it reaches deep into my psyche and lets me know that being in limbo is nowhere to be, and that even for me, I can return to the world of the living and take part in my own destiny again. I too have been in limbo for quite some time now and know in my heart that it is a lonely place; where I often forget myself and keep on wandering nowhere. I donít really care for this type of Ďlivingí, but it is all Iíve known for too long. Yet, with this film, I am taught something. Risk is living. Risk is an escape from limbo.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio & David Strathairn
Thatís what makes Limbo so amazing. Not only is it a movie that tells an amazing tale of three very special people, but itís also a film that touches us in a subtle, yet powerful manner. Looking at the way Joe lives his life, we learn that living in the past can be fatal for a person who has nothing but promise. Seeing Donna live her reckless life, warns us to show caution in our risk taking; that there has to be a happy medium when it comes to living life to the fullest and hiding behind the blinds. And when watching Noelle duck inside her shell, we can easily see that isolation can be catastrophic for a personís mental well being. Can these people be cured of their private limbos? Or will they stay lost? Maybe finding within themselves the desire to climb out of their own limbos is success enough, and anything else is only dressing. Youíll need to find those answers out for yourself, because this is a very personal story. Each one of us may take something different from this film that another finds impossible to see.

Obviously, I recommend Limbo wholeheartedly. John Sayles is one of our most under-appreciated and unknown masters of filmmaking. He often takes particular aspects of our humanity, shines a spotlight on it, dissects it, and then shoves it down our gullets; yet it goes down smooth. Here he shows us what despair and hopelessness leads to and that we should all fight that type of mental degeneration. Yet he shows us all this in an entertaining way that really defies description. In a lot of other films nowadays, directors go out of their way to have twists and turns in their story in an effort to keep us involved. Half the time it works, and half the time it only creates a convoluted storyline that causes only distraction. In Limbo, Sayles manages to find a way to get us caught up into a story that seems straight forward enough, but all of a sudden, he turns it on its ear and somehow begins again with its continuation. Once viewed, that will make better sense.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio & Vanessa Martinez
Not only do I love Limbo because it is such a superb story and itís told by one of the greatest living directors, but itís also because of the acting involved. Strathairn is at the top of his game here playing the lost man who is also so strong. Iíve always liked him and wished often that he could get more lead roles. He does not disappoint. I must confess that I never really cared for Mastrantonio before, but because of her work here, my entire opinion of her has changed. She nails the role of the mother who has lost her way and her daughter. She also sings all the songs that her character performs herself and has a beautiful voice that enchants. Iíd like to own the soundtrack; sheís that good. But for me, itís Martinez who steals the show. For a relatively inexperienced young actress, she has a power and magnificence to her that many of her contemporaries can only dream of. Itís her tale that moves me the most. Sheís so lost and alone, itísÖwellÖheartbreaking. Her acting is the biggest strength this film has other than the story itself.

So, check out this little known masterpiece and treat yourself to an extraordinary tale that twists and turns and manages to teach something in the process. Learn for yourself why Sayles is a masterÖand prepare yourself for an ending of unknowable outcome that will make you think deep into the night.