Bernie (film)


This seemingly unpretentious comedy by Richard Linklater that I picked without much thought on Netflix proved to be a masterpiece of satire. The film wrestles with the ideas of justice, crime and moral decency, which all plays out among some flamboyant characters in small-town America.

Bernie is about Bernie Tiede, a single man in his mid 30’s living in Carthage, Texas who seems to be just about perfect at everything. Jack Black is absolutely amazing in this role and I think this is by far his best performance. It really shows off his acting, comedy as well as his powerful singing. We hear of Bernie's skills, relationships and how he was “pretty much the most popular guy in town”. The movie mixes between the fictional story of Bernie as well as mockumentary-style interviews with the local people of Carthage. But alas, where there is good, there is also evil.

Bernie befriends a cranky old widow Mrs Nugent who has been left with enormous wealth following her oil baron husband’s death. Mrs Nugent is a cranky, controlling and temperamental character who has been long estranged from the children that tried to sue her. Bernie visits Mrs Nugent following the funeral of her husband to make sure she’s ok and their friendship blossoms.

The stories then diverge: some say Bernie was a manipulative gold digger, others say he is the nicest guy and was stuck in a cycle of control and abuse by Mrs Nugent who became possessive and jealous of Bernie’s popularity in town.

The central idea of criminal law is that a person is reprimanded for an act that is not condoned by society. That’s why criminal trials in America are always So-and-So vs The People of… as the particular action or offending is considered to be committed against the people. In New Zealand it’s vs “R” which signifies Regina, the Queen. This idea also follows the process of selecting jurors; people local to the community where the crime occurred are chosen to judge the actions committed by the Defendant against the community.

Often when crime is covered in the media the opinion generally divides between the good (almost always the victim) and the bad (the Defendant). Particularly in a small town, the bad are often vehemently attacked and hated by the media and public for their alleged actions. But with Bernie, people just can’t seem to get the hating right because no one can quite figure out if he is a saint or a monster. They treat him the same regardless, as humanity has so few saints that it doesn't know what to do when encountered with one.

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