‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ fails thematically, lacks message

Ty Davis

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” has the audacity to be boring, poorly written and idiotic all at the same time. This film highlights the importance, and at times necessity, of altering the source material to better fit a film format. On the other hand, no slight alteration or tweaking can fix a fundamentally broken story from a thematic standpoint, but it is also socially irresponsible to an absurd degree.

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” follows the story of an agoraphobic architect named Bernadette (played by Cate Blanchett) after she’s caught in a series of self-destructive acts which begin to affect the people around her. The book was lauded at the time for its use of documentation and narration to tell the story. In the film, the cinematography allows the audience to read emails, memos and other documents, which are then filled in by narration of Bernadette’s daughter, Bee Branch. This direction is the first problem with adapting this story.

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Just because something works for one medium doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another. If you don’t take special care to adapt a work to the strengths of film, you wind up with meandering, slow-paced scenes, especially when that entails an overly literal visualization of the scenes behind the documents.

The scenes are long and rambling, which gives the film a glacial pace. You can tell the director, Richard Linklater, just ripped literal imagery from the pages instead of adapting to the nuance needed for film. It takes nearly an hour for the central crisis of the film to be revealed, and only 30 minutes later, the big disappearance of Bernadette actually happens. At just over two hours, this movie is an absolute slog to try and get through.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is playing at AMC Classic Fort Collins and Cinemark Fort Collins

In addition, written fiction gives authors the benefit of zooming in and out of perspective, getting details that can’t be caught with a camera. Here, however, when we’re not getting overly faithful adaptations of scenes, we’re getting cheesy dialogue and large amounts of exposition because the filmmakers realized they needed to expand on some plot points.

What’s worse is that the movie’s scenes don’t even use them to advance the theme. Ideally, smart writers are able to explore a theme by using the characters to either discuss, explore or embody the theme in some capacity. But the movie can’t even bother to do this properly — scenes go on and on without ever really meditating on the theme. 

And what little theme is presented in the movie is possibly the most asinine message a filmmaker could explore. Essentially, this movie’s message can be boiled down to: “If you’re an artist who’s struggling with mental health issues, just find solace in your art,” which is idiotic at best and negligent at worst. It’s never explained how the titular character develops agoraphobia, except that one of her projects was destroyed. Bernadette is confronted with the reality of her mental illness when the supporting characters lament about how they were wrong about her issues being mental health-related and her needing therapy. Because of this, Bernadette never actually learns to deal with her issues; she just finds a new project, and she’s magically cured.

This image of people who struggle with mental health as “tortured artists” fetishizes mental health struggles as a source of great inspiration. This essentially reinforces the idea that actual treatment will take away one’s ability to be unique and skilled as an artist. 

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is the manifestation of the pseudo-intellectual guy in a philosophy or literature class. It’s the guy who doesn’t actually want to engage with the material or ask critical questions to further their understanding, but rather wants to seem intelligent and poetically speak for way too long about grandiose ideas that don’t actually mean anything. 

Do not waste your time with this movie. 

Rating: 5/10 

Ty Davis can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @tydavisACW.