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Film / Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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Savannah, Georgia, is an interesting city and the citizens are the most interesting part. A reporter who had been hired to cover a socialite's Christmas party decided to remain there instead of heading home to New York City and began to write a book based in the city. That reporter was John Berendt, and his book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was adapted into a 1997 film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Lady Chablis, and Jude Law.

The story takes place in The '80s. The Christmas party, hosted by Jim Williams (Spacey), is a gathering of the local who's who of Savannah. Williams has a glorious Southern-style mansion filled with antiques from the world over. However, after the party is over, Williams kills one of his employees and alleged lover, and is arrested and brought to trial. Some citizens related to him are then investigated by the journalist John Kelso (Cusack), a guest at Williams' party, in order to help in his defense.


The film has examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Quite a few.
    • Danny Hansford becomes Billy Hanson.
    • Judge George Oliver becomes Samuel L. White
    • Leopold Adler becomes Lorne Atwell
    • Spencer Lawton becomes Finley Largent
    • Greg Kerr becomes George Tucker
    • The Lady Chablis becomes Chablis Deveau
    • John Berendt's role as The Watson is given to the fictional John Kelso
  • Asshole Victim: Billy Hanson gives John the stinkeye when he's looking around town and then threatens Jim and John both with a broken bottle after Jim won't give him $20 for booze.
  • Autobiographical Role: Lady Chablis plays herself, however her birth name was not actually Frank, it was Benjamin.
    • Many of the extras and background characters were played by their real-life counterparts. Most of them had few problems with the film (and book).
  • Big Fancy House: Jim's apparently takes up an entire block and he does not spare any expense on the interior either.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jim is acquitted but dies soon after, with John expressing doubts that Jim wasn't fully innocent. However, John realizes he's fallen in love with both a local girl and with the city of Savannah itself, and opts to stay with the cast of colorful eccentrics.
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  • Blind Seer: Minerva plays the part for this trope but does not appear to actually be blind, but does almost always wear large opaque sunglasses.
  • Bookends: A focus on the statue and then Minerva talking to a squirrel help frame the opening and closing of the film.
  • Bury Your Gays: Billy and Jim by the end of the film are dead and buried. Lady Chablis, on the other hand, is very much alive and kicking throughout the novel and film.note 
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal example with the World War II Luger that Jim keeps in his desk in case of burglaries: it's the gun that Billy tries to shoot him with.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land: Savannah, GA is loaded with strange people in this film.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Luther Driggers who claims to own enough poison to kill the entire town and threatens to use it when his lunch isn't very good, every day, for ten years. Oh and he also attaches horse flies to himself with string.
  • Coup de Grâce: One of the central questions of the trial is whether Jim fought back in self-defense or whether he executed his victim. Near the end, Jim admits to John, it was a little of both.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: The Driving Question of the main plot, and it's a complex example so bear with us. Jim Williams admits to having shot his lover Billy but claims it was self-defense when Billy, high as a kite and mad at him for an earlier snub, grabbed a Chekhov's Gun off the desk and shot and missed, giving Jim time to draw on him. Jim is tried for murder one based on discrepancies between his story and the forensic evidence: the wound angles are sketchy and the test for gunshot residue on Billy's hands came up negative. He later privately tells John Kelso that Billy tried to shoot him, but the safety was on and Jim shot him before he could turn it off; he then staged the scene to make himself look less guilty, saying "I'd rather be convicted of lying than of murder." However, his lawyer then comes in with evidence of shoddy police work (previously discovered by Kelso) that suggests the cops could have accidentally compromised the gunshot residue evidence (remember that American juries have to be sure "beyond a reasonable doubt" to convict on a charge), and Jim goes back to his original story. It's never confirmed which version is true (though either way, Jim probably has a fair-to-decent self-defense case under Georgia law).
  • Drag Queen: Lady Chablis, playing herself. Although the real Lady found that term hurtful (as a drag queen is generally considered to be a male dressed as a female, and Chablis always considered herself a female).
  • The Film of the Book
  • Good Ol' Boy: Many different flavors are sampled, the most classic example of the trope being Jim's lawyer Sonny.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Averted as the voodoo-practicing Minerva has no spells, carries no voodoo dolls and doesn't battle with Baron Samedi. That doesn't however stop her from being a hauntingly creepy character.
  • Literal Metaphor: Lampshaded. Kelso is interviewing a local woman regarding the murder charge against Jim. The lady remarks that Jim chose a rather "unconventional way to exit the closet."
    Kelso: With a bang.
    Lady: (laughs) Literally!
  • Most Writers Are Writers: A journalist main character, natch.
  • Open Secret: Discussed. Everybody in upper-crust Savannah knows Jim is gay, but it's The '80s in the South and it isn't talked about: as one character explains, his neighbors considered themselves very sophisticated for not caring about it but were scandalized by the "unconventional" way he chose to "exit the closet". In one case, Jim is not fond of the idea of testifying in open court about his gay relationship because his mom would be sitting in the courtroom. She is asked to sit outside instead.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: From the Christmas party, to Lady Chablis' dresses, to the Alpha Phi Beta party, to the Married Ladies Card Club, this trope is all over this movie.
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • The Judge is played by Sonny Seiler, the attorney for Jim Williams during the real trials.
    • Also a Real Dog Cameo, the bulldog, was Georgia state's actual mascot at the time, Uga. (Though this was actually Uga V, son of Uga IV whom is portrayed.)
  • Reckless Gun Usage: The old lady who turns up at the Christmas party and then starts waving around a loaded revolver, pointing it at people, etc. Lampshaded by Williams and Kelso when they leave to try and find a conversation, in Kelso's words, "less likely to involve gunfire."
  • Shrine to Self: One patrician widow, in the words of Jim at the Christmas party, "Made her boudoir a shrine to herself."
  • Sweet Home Alabama: While painted as eccentric, the Savannah residents are a very happy-go-lucky bunch and never genuinely creepy.
  • Transsexual: Lady Chablis, playing herself. This was the first mainstream American film to feature a trans character played by a trans actor.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: As well as a based on a very popular non-fiction book.
    • Many of the Savannah residents were comfortable with how they were portrayed in the book and film, except for the chemist who was depicted as Luther Driggers (a composite character) in the film. He never actually carried around a vial of poison with him, he merely claimed to keep it in the house.


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