507. Bigger Than Life

James Mason is riveting, frightening, and other adjectives in the 1956 drama from Nicholas Ray, BIGGER THAN LIFE. A well-liked father and teacher, his life is turned upside down when he is diagnosed with a fatal condition, which can be kept in check by a miracle drug that comes with its own consequences. Slowly, as he begins to abuse the drug, he is transformed into something unrecognizable. What makes this film disturbing is not that he becomes a monster, but that it’s a familiar monster. Abusive fathers really do exist, with or without mind-altering drugs, and his family’s acquiescence is all too believable—although I’m sure it was a shocking depiction in the 50s. Aside from Mason’s performance, there are also some brilliantly shot scenes, like the one illustrated below. I generally try not to choose images that Criterion has used for their DVD art, but the tableau of Mason’s shadow looming over his son was too perfectly iconic to pass up.

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3 comments

    1. Thank you for stopping by! And thanks for sharing your review. I find it interesting that you focused on the mental health aspect of the film, whereas I was much more focused on the abuse. There are definitely a lot of different facets to this film.

      1. Most definitely. It is a very rich film. I have a background working in mental health so that is probably why I approached it from that angle. We all bring our life experiences to film interpretation.

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