The Sweet Hereafter (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Sweet Hereafter is a 1997 Canadian film written and directed by Atom Egoyan, adapted from the novel of the same name by Russell Banks.



In a small town in British Columbia, a school bus skids into a lake, killing several children. Their grieving parents are approached by a lawyer, Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), who is haunted by his dysfunctional relationship with his drug-addicted daughter. Stephens persuades the reluctant parents to file a class action lawsuit against the bus company for damages, arguing that the accident is a result of negligence.

The case depends on the few surviving witnesses to say the right things in court; particularly Nicole Burnell, a 15-year-old now paralyzed from the waist down. Before the accident, Nicole was an aspiring songwriter and was being abused by her father, Sam (Tom McCamus).

One bereaved parent, Billy Ansel, distrusts Stephens and pressures Sam to drop the case; Nicole overhears their argument. In the pretrial deposition, Nicole unexpectedly accuses the bus driver Dolores Driscoll (Gabrielle Rose) of speeding, halting the lawsuit. Stephens and Nicole's father know she is lying but can do nothing. Two years later, Stephens sees Driscoll working as a bus driver in a city.


Factual basis

See article on the novel.


Banks approved of Egoyan's adaptation, playing a role in the film as the town doctor, and discussing the film with Egoyan in the DVD's commentary track. Not only did Banks approve of the adaptation, but he also freely admitted that this was one instance in which the film was better than the book.

In adapting the novel, Egoyan changed the setting from Upstate New York to Canada. Another major change is Egoyan's addition of references to the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, which Nicole is seen reading to children who later die in the accident. In that story, the Pied Piper leads all the children away, never to return, after their parents refuse to honour their debt to him. The only child left in the now-childless town is a crippled child who was unable to follow the Piper's song and now wishes he could have gone with the other children. In the movie, the survivor, Nicole, clearly identifies with this child, in contrast to her motivation in the novel where she is primarily acting out of anger against her father.


The movie was filmed in five locations: Moha, British Columbia; Merritt, British Columbia; Spences Bridge, British Columbia; Stouffville, Ontario; and Toronto, Ontario.


The Pied Piper theme is reinforced through Mychael Danna's score, which is heavily influenced by Medieval and Renaissance music with frequent appearances of a flute.

Polley's character, Nicole, was an aspiring singer before the accident, and is seen on stage at various points in the film performing both The Tragically Hip's "Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour". The Tragically Hip's original version of "Courage" also appears in the film.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Sweet Hereafter (film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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