The Sweet Hereafterby Atom Egoyan: Extreme loss and psychic survival

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Abstract

In a small mountain community of British Columbia a school bus swerves off the road, causing the death of 14 children. Mitchell Stephens, a New York lawyer, immediately enters the fray with the idea of instigating a large-scale lawsuit to obtain compensation for the victims, making contact with each of the parents who had lost children in the accident. Many are persuaded to join his cause. The lawyer, bombarded by phone calls from his daughter, a drug addict, even turns to Dolores Driscoll, the bus driver, who survived the accident. The latter, however, with the support of her paraplegic husband, refuses to become involved in the lawsuit. Another character who is vigorously opposed to the collective cause is Billy Ansel, a garage owner who had already lost his beloved wife and witnesses the death of his two children from the pick-up truck in which he is following the school bus. Among the survivors there is, finally, the 14 year-old Nicole Burnell, who had dreamt of becoming a folk singer and now finds herself paralysed from the waist down. Nicole is initially persuaded by the lawyer and by her parents – in particular by her father Sam, with whom she has had an incestuous relationship – to testify in favour the party seeking compensation, but when she steps into the witness box, realizing that such legal action was misguided, she offers a ‘false’ account of the accident, invalidating the case. Two years after the tragedy of the school bus, Mitchell Stephens bumps into Allison, a friend of his daughter’s, on an airplane and ends up revealing to her some of his painful experiences.

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