21 Grams is a 2003 American drama film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. It stars Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Danny Huston.
Like Arriaga's and González Iñárritu's previous film, Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams interweaves several plot lines, around the consequences of a tragic automobile accident. Penn plays a critically ill academic mathematician, Watts plays a grief-stricken mother, and del Toro plays a born-again Christian ex-convict whose faith is sorely tested in the aftermath of the accident.
21 Grams is presented in a non-linear arrangement where the lives of the characters are depicted before and after the accident. The three main characters each have 'past', 'present', and 'future' story threads, which are shown as non-linear fragments that punctuate elements of the overall story, all imminently coming toward each other and coalescing as the story progresses.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: In an Establishing Character Moment, Jack not only lets his son hit his daughter, but forces her to take another hit, quoting scripture. Then hitting his son for his act to begin with.
- Adult Fear: Cristina having her entire family wiped out in a hit-and-run.
- Anachronic Order: For example, the reactions of the other two in the motel after Paul shot himself is seen about a half-hour in. Though the plot becomes more understandable about an hour in.
- Artistic License Biology: Iñárritu and Arriaga even admit that they used the "losing twenty-one grams" motif as a form of this.
- The Atoner: Deconstructed with Jack. He genuinely wants to do good and atone for his actions, but comes across as condescending, hypocritical, and selfish, not really thinking how his actions will affect his family.
- Babies Ever After: Rare dark example. Christina is pregnant with Paul's baby, but the news is broken at the same time he dies.
- Billy Needs an Organ: Paul, due to a heart condition.
- Bittersweet Ending: Albeit a borderline Downer Ending. On one hand, Jack reunites with his family after his BSOD, but Paul, in the midst of having a heart attack due to his heart failing him, shoots himself in the chest, leading Jack and Christina to rush him to the hospital. It's too late, Paul dies, and the conflict between Paul and Christina is unresolved.
- City with No Name: The city that the characters live in is unidentified, though implied to be Memphis, Tennessee (where the film was shot).
- Driven to Suicide: Jack and Paul both attempt suicide, the former in prison, the latter in the climax. Paul is the only one who succeeds.
- Fake American: Naomi Watts as Christina.
- Grey-and-Grey Morality: Jack is a man who wants to do good, but comes off as selfish and hypocritical, Paul is stalking Christina, and it may seem that Christina is the most sympathetic main character, until she ropes Paul into trying to kill Jack.
- HeelFaith Turn: Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro), but whether he's really better than before becomes a critical question of the film.
- The Hero Dies: Paul.
- Holier Than Thou: Jack, or at least he tries to be.
- Hyperlink Story
- Irony: Mary's (Paul's wife) motivation is getting his sperm so she can have his child. Christina is the one who ends up impregnated by Paul.
- Off the Wagon: Christina.
- R-Rated Opening: The first shot is Paul smoking a cigarette next to a sleeping Christina. Both are naked.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: As per the director's other works, this is far on the cynical end.
- Stalker with a Crush: Paul follows Christina around for a while without revealing how he knows her.