Behind the Screen

Updated November 14

The following features interesting trivia and stories about the productions and actors of older and current films. Titles are chosen arbitrarily. This page will be updated every other Tuesday.
Note: As always..Spoiler Alerts



21 Grams (2003)

R (2hr, 4min) Director - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu


21 Grams is a 2003 American drama film directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu from a screenplay written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston and Benicio Del Toro.



Basic Plot:

This is the story of three well-meaning but flawed people: Paul Rivers, an ailing mathematician lovelessly married to an English émigré; Christina Peck, an upper-middle-class suburban housewife, happily married homemaker with two young daughters, with hiding a secret past; and Jack Jordan, an ex-convict who has found in his Christian faith the strength to live a law-abiding life and raise a family. They will be brought together by a terrible accident that will change their lives. By the final frame, none of them will be the same as they will have learnt harsh truths about love, faith, courage, desire and guilt, and how chance can change our worlds irretrievably, forever.


film scene

The title refers to an experiment in 1907 which attempted to show scientific proof of the existence of the soul by recording a loss of body weight (said to represent the departure of the soul) immediately following death. Referred to as the 21 grams experiment as one subject lost "three-fourths of an ounce" (21.3 grams), the experiment is regarded by the scientific community as flawed and unreliable, though it has been credited with popularizing the concept that the soul weighs 21 grams.


soul leaving

80% of the critics surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes gave the film positive reviews, based on 178 reviews with an average rating of 7.5/10. The critical consensus states that "Alejandro González Iñárritu deftly weaves an uncommonly structured narrative with panache in 21 Grams, a stylish, haunting drama full of fine performances." Roger Ebert, for example, questioned the use of non-linear narrative, but praised the acting and said of the film overall: "It grips us, moves us, astonishes us." Elvis Mitchell also praised the acting and called the film "an extraordinarily satisfying vision" that "may well be the crowning work of this year."



The film was a success with audiences, garnering a worldwide gross of approximately $60 million after being made for an estimated $20 million.

Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro received several awards and nominations for their performances in the film, including Academy Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations in the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. At the 76th Oscars, Naomi Watts lost to Charlize Theron for Monster and del Toro lost to Tim Robbins in Mystic River.



The film was shot almost completely with hand-held cameras.

The film was shot in chronological order (even though it's not in chronological order in its final cut).

Katrin Cartlidge (pictured) was originally cast as Marianne but she died shortly before filming was to start. Melissa Leo, who had previously auditioned for the role, was invited to audition again and won the part. The English actress died at age 41, due to complications from pneumonia and septicaemia, stemming from a pheochromocytoma.



Naomi Watts accepted the role without reading the script first.

When Paul finds the photos of Cristina and her husband in a book, the book he is looking at is "Cruising Paradise", a collection of 40 stories about solitude and loss by the late playwright-actor Sam Shepard. The story in Cruising Paradise that the pictures are marking is called "The Hero is in His Kitchen". It revolves around a payphone conversation between two men, one in Tucson, Arizona and the other in Los Angeles, California. One of the last things said on the last page of the story (the one the pictures are marking) is "Don't buckle under the weight of a heavy heart!"


"Cruising Paradise"

The Spanish-language dedication to María Eladia at the end, "pues cuando ardió la pérdida, reverdecieron sus maizales," translates literally as "for when the loss burned, their cornfields became green again."

The poem by the Venezuelan writer that Paul (Sean Penn) quotes when he's in the restaurant with Cristina (Naomi Watts) is "La Tierra Giró para Acercarnos" by Eugenio Montejo.

The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Melissa Leo; and one Oscar nominee: Naomi Watts. Iñárritu approached Watts for the role of Christina while she was shooting the well scene from The Ring (2002). Watts was worried that her grungy costume and hair would make her look unprofessional, but it ended up being exactly what Iñárritu was looking for.



At Sean Penn's urging, Naomi Watts hit him for real during an emotionally charged scene between them. Penn and Watts would later appear in Fair Game (2010).


Fair Game

In the scene where Paul tells Cristina that he got her husband's heart implanted, he says that the surgical intervention took place October 11th. 10 plus 11 equals 21.


Oct 11

In the original screenplay, Cristina's last name was Beck instead of Peck.

During the scene where Jack Jordan tries to hang himself, the overweight prisoner who saves him has a large tattoo of the name "Maria Eladia" on his chest. This is Alejandro González Iñárritu's wife, to whom the film is dedicated.


director and wife

The three characters of which the story revolves around are understood to have experience death, in some sense. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) and his wife appear to have come to terms with the fact that his heart is failing and that he may die soon, before Cristina's husband's death saves him; Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) confesses in a group therapy session, near the beginning of the film, that she: "ended up flatlining at the hospital" but survived; and Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is a born again Christian, repenting the sins of his past life, as a criminal. The closing speech, by Penn's character, questions the effect which death has on a human soul - "how much is lost? [...] How much is gained?". The personalities of these characters have been undoubtedly altered by their deathly experiences. The movie, in its title and theme, questions the value and significance of this change.




Sean Penn as Paul Rivers
Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck
Benicio Del Toro as Jack Jordan
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Mary Rivers
Danny Huston as Michael
John Rubinstein as Gynecologist
Clea DuVall as Claudia
Eddie Marsan as Reverend John
Melissa Leo as Marianne Jordan
Marc Thomas Musso as Freddy
Paul Calderón as Brown
Denis O'Hare as Dr. Rothberg
Kevin Chapman as Alan
Lew Temple as County Sheriff
Carly Nahon as Cathy

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