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The Human Stain

The book The Human Stain was made into the movie The Human Stain.

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Book details for The Human Stain

The Human Stain was written by Phillip Roth. The book was published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin. More information on the book is available on Amazon.com.

 

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Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk--formerly "Silky Silk," undefeated welterweight pro boxer--strode in and shook the place awake. This faculty dean sacked the deadwood, made lots of hot new hires, including Yale... Read More
Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk--formerly "Silky Silk," undefeated welterweight pro boxer--strode in and shook the place awake. This faculty dean sacked the deadwood, made lots of hot new hires, including Yale-spawned literary-theory wunderkind Delphine Roux, and pissed off so many people for so many decades that now, in 1998, they've all turned on him. Silk's character assassination is partly owing to what the novel's narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, calls "the Devil of the Little Place--the gossip, the jealousy, the acrimony, the boredom, the lies."

But shocking, intensely dramatized events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication," and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble," and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado," Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.

In a short space, it's tough to convey the gale-force quality of Silk's rants, or the odd effect of Zuckerman's narration, alternately retrospective and torrentially in the moment. The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey are just as important as his turbulent forced retirement, because it turns out that for his entire adult life, Silk has been covering up the fact that he is a black man. (If this seems implausible, consider that the famous New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard did the same thing.) Young Silk rejects both the racism that bars him from Woolworth's counter and the Negro solidarity of Howard University. "Neither the they of Woolworth's nor the we of Howard" is for Coleman Silk. "Instead the raw I with all its agility. Self-discovery--that was the punch to the labonz.... Self-knowledge but concealed. What is as powerful as that?"

Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband (a sketchy guy who seems to have wandered in from a lesser Russell Banks novel), scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off, kick ass, and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo

Movie details for The Human Stain

The movie was released in 2003 and directed by Robert Benton, who also directed Billy Bathgate (1991) and Nobody's Fool (1994). The Human Stain was produced by Miramax. More information on the movie is available on Amazon.com and also IMDb.

Actors on this movie include Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Wentworth Miller, Jacinda Barrett, Harry J. Lennix, Clark Gregg, Anna Deavere Smith, Lizan Mitchell, Kerry Washington, Phyllis Newman, Margo Martindale, Ron Canada, Mili Avital, Danny Blanco, Kristen Blevins, Anne Dudek, Mimi Kuzyk and John Finn.

 

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Given the formidable challenge of adapting Philip Roth's acclaimed novel to the screen, it's a wonder that The Human Stain retains so much of what makes Roth's novel a masterpiece. As adapted by Nicholas Meyer, Robert Benton's film is inevitably a differe... Read More
Given the formidable challenge of adapting Philip Roth's acclaimed novel to the screen, it's a wonder that The Human Stain retains so much of what makes Roth's novel a masterpiece. As adapted by Nicholas Meyer, Robert Benton's film is inevitably a different animal altogether, and it's wide open to charges of miscasting and thematic diffusion. But at its core, this delicate drama succeeds in exposing the sins that stain all of humanity, forcing men like former welterweight boxer and esteemed professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) to forsake family and career to conceal his African American heritage. Light-skinned and passing as a Jewish professor of classics in a tony East Coast college, 71-year-old Silk sinks into scandal when an innocent remark is misinterpreted as a racist slur, and this--along with his affair with an illiterate 34-year-old janitor (Nicole Kidman), and friendship with a reclusive novelist (Gary Sinise)--forms the crux of Benton's multilayered inquiry into the oppressive aftershocks of guilt, shame, and mourning, and the effects of judgment (internal and external) on our ability to connect. Roth's novel was one thing, Benton's film is another. Despite differing degrees of success, both are worthy of praise. --Jeff Shannon