Benton, Robert — The Human Stain

Posted on April 12th, 2016 in Film,Race,Relationships,Self-Identity by Barry

This program is about “passing,” a term sometimes used to define a person of color who passes as white. From the 2004 Radio Curious archives we revisit a conversation with film director Robert Benton, about his film “The Human Stain.” It’s a movie about the life of Coleman Silk, an eminent Jewish intellectual and devoted husband; a professor of classics at a small New England college.  The truth about Coleman Silk, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, is far more complex than expected or thought to be.  He hid behind a veil of lies, having masked his African-American origins in order to find a freedom he thought would otherwise be impossible to achieve.  But his world of deception unraveled after embarking on a romance with a much younger woman.

Our guest, Robert Benton, is a three time Academy Awards winner for his work as the Director of “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” “Places in the Heart,” and “Nobody’s Fool.” His film, “The Human Stain,” takes place in the 1990s and is based on the third novel of Phillip Roth’s “American Trilogy” describing the post World War Two turmoil in America.

The title “The Human Stain” emerges from the idea that no matter what a person does, a human being leaves a mark on the world, whether by rage, desire, ambition or accident, a kind of scar; stain that cannot be undone.  For Coleman Silk that stain is the deception and concealment he carried for decades. The human stain is the mark we leave on everything.  It speaks to the fact that we can’t get through life without marking the world around us in some way. We have no choice. It’s part of being human.

Robert Benton and I visited by phone in the fall of 2004.

The books Robert Benton recommends are “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,” by Mark Haddon and “The Manuscript Found in Sargossa,” by Jan Potocki.

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