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U.S., 1956
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau
Approx. 95 min. DCP.

"God was wrong!" proclaims James Mason — but then he's in the grip of all-out 50s mediocrity; a too intellectual, bow-tied grade school teacher, his house festooned with travel posters for places he's never been to; forced to spend odd afternoons as a cab dispatcher to make ends meet; his job, friends, family, and even himself, self-described as dull. But then there's bad news and good news: he's got a rare arterial disease that will probably finish him within a year. The good news? There's this miracle drug (cortisone) that might just save his life. But there could be some little side effects... Time capsule of the 50s: the decor, the blocky suits and omnipresent hats for the men, the gowns that wife Barbara Rush tries on during the new Mason's ill-advised splurge fest, the hat she wears on Sunday, the conformity (everyone in town seems to attend the same church) — an unexpected setting for Mason's tour de force performance, as he moves from frumpy nice guy to full-blown, drug induced megalomaniac. "One of Ray's most frightening and affecting pictures, one of the films that's meant the most to me over the years. Every Scope composition becomes an arena for the most primal emotions, leading to a truly shocking climax." — Martin Scorsese. "There is not a director who films or frames interior shots with Ray's dynamic, fraught grace and who thereby explodes the rigid limits of 'script' material. No one made CinemaScope so glorious a shape as Ray, because it seemed to set an extra challenge to his interior sensibility. Ray was a self-conscious poet of American disenchantment... REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and BIGGER THAN LIFE show how plainly he saw manias building in America." – David Thomson. "Ray's most powerful film, and in some respects his most important. It's hard to think of another Hollywood picture with more to say about the sheer awfulness of 'normal' American family life during the 50s." – Jonathan Rosenbaum. "May be justIfiably be seen as Ray's masterpiece. With an even more all-embracing sense of disenchantment than before, he dissects the American Dream and finds it a nightmare..." – Geoff Andrew.


“Mason's gift for cold-eyed madness is heightened by Ray's exuberantly lurid approach. He films Ed's jaundiced world view with cocked angles and shock cuts and invokes the clash of slovenly good cheer and tyrannical order with a palette that sets decorous neutral tones against the acid colors of corrosive passion and the eerie fluorescence of the little purple bottle at the heart of it all.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“BIGGER THAN LIFE is a film filled with such contradictions, such paradoxes and confusions of emotion and reason; indeed, these are part of what makes it big and ugly and beautiful as life, even in its outsized proportions. And these proportions are measured first and foremost by James Mason, whose perfectly vivid realization of Ed Avery gives the film its minuteness and scope.”
– Leo Goldsmith, Reverse Shot

Film Forum