Some films pull at your heartstrings in a cheap and manufactured way. Like the basketball dog, Air Bud. But others do it naturally. 21 Grams is the continuation of Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's death trilogy that was preceded by Amores Perros and concludes with Babel.
This is not a plot-driven trilogy. It is tied together simple by the concept of death, and each film follows a similar structure. It consists of three (and sometimes more) separate character stories that ultimately cross and intersect at various points of the film. It is a design choice that I, personally, adore. You can see this by my reviews of other films by this acclaimed thematic director.
Amores Perros was about human cruelty, among other things. In my opinion, 21 Grams is about human acceptance. It is about accepting the nature of man and accepting one self is a flawed cog in the wheel. The characters go through some trying times, gathered together by the death of a young woman's daughter. But this is a character plot. The film ignites a troubled con with an alone white socialite and Sean Penn, who is the jaded moral compass of the film. It is gut wrenching, and hits you right in the center of the heart with its sharpened blade-like sense of punishing reality.
People die. Good people die. But how do we move past this? How do we learn not to hate and unwind our lives with such horror? It is not a new theme exactly, but it is certainly one accomplished with this dire explicit forwardness. 21 Grams is not righteous or preachy in its efforts to display the horror and aftermath of cruelty. It begs a question- how do we manage life, and how do we counterbalance that with death?
I saw 21 Grams at 18 years old, and it blew my mind. I saw it again a few years later and I feel like I became a better person. It is that kind of film, if you really allow it to engage the part of you that thinks about life in all its gritty, dark, and troubling reality. But there is a glimmer of hope. I think it is that which brings the thematic trilogy to a close (in this movie universe) but even more importantly- it makes the troubling trials of life worth it.