UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of Point Films

Barney’s Version

Film adaption about a flawed Montrealer with dementia is an endearing delight

By Richard Wright

Barney’s Version
Directed by Richard J. Lewis
(Serendipity Point Films)


If you’ve recently forgotten exactly where you last parked your car — as I have — then Barney’s Version will give that lapse a new ominous edge. In the film, based on Mordecai Richler’s Giller Prize-winning novel of the same title, the 67-year-old protagonist Barney Panofsky loses his car, although it is sitting safely in his reserved spot in the company parking lot. It’s a sign that his hyperactive intelligence is slowing to a stop in the morass of Alzheimer’s disease.

As his mind unravels, Barney, a Montreal producer of sleazy sitcoms, embarks on an uncharacteristic voyage of self-discovery. Through flashbacks, we see him in his bohemian days in 1970s Rome, at his wedding to a vapid, affluent Jewish princess (played energetically by Minnie Driver, who wrings every cliché from her role), and through his courtship of and eventual estrangement from the true love of his life, the ethereal Miriam (Rosamund Pike). As the title character, Paul Giamatti convincingly transforms himself from a hirsute youth into a balding, paunchy sexagenarian, a masterful turn that earned him a Golden Globe Award for best actor in a comedy or musical.

Ironically, Barney’s depleted brainpower probably aids his project of self-examination. Unable to simply rationalize away his errors, he gives us a version of his life perhaps closer to the truth than most of us are able to reach.

The truth cannot be a comfort to him. His youth was mostly dissolute. His prime was marked by three failed marriages and a thoroughly trivial career. His old age is a haze of cigar smoke and single-malt scotch, both consumed in lonely excess. But the darkest cloud hanging over Barney is the unsolved disappearance of his one-time best friend, whom, in the eyes of an obsessed detective, Barney had motive and opportunity to murder, and a literal smoking gun. Barney, stupefied by drink at the time, can’t remember what happened. Could he really be a serial spouse, professional bottom-feeder and a killer?

It seems possible, and yet, if Barney were simply a despicable lout, why do we care about his belated soul searching? It is the film’s genius to make Giamatti’s Barney principled, generous and truthful at crucial turning points, so that we have a wholly human, if often infuriating, character to engage. In the end, a last flash of remembered reality, glimpsed through the deepening fog of dementia, convinces us that our empathy has been earned.

Richard Wright is a Toronto writer.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image