The Human Stain (film)

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The Human Stain
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Benton
Screenplay byNicholas Meyer
Based onThe Human Stain
by Philip Roth
Produced by
CinematographyJean-Yves Escoffier
Edited byChristopher Tellefsen
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release dates
  • August 29, 2003 (2003-08-29) (Venice)
  • October 29, 2003 (2003-10-29) (France)
  • October 31, 2003 (2003-10-31) (United States)
  • December 18, 2003 (2003-12-18) (Germany)
Running time
106 minutes
  • United States
  • Germany
Budget$30 million
Box office$24.9 million

The Human Stain is a 2003 American drama film directed by Robert Benton. Its screenplay, by Nicholas Meyer, is based on the novel of the same name by Philip Roth. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.


In the late 1990s, writer Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) has settled in a lakeside New England cabin following his second divorce and a battle with prostate cancer. His quiet life is interrupted by Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a former dean and professor of classics at local Athena College, who was forced to resign after being accused of making a racist remark in class. Coleman's wife died suddenly following the scandal, and he wants to avenge his loss of career and companion by writing a book about the events with Nathan's assistance.

The project is placed on the back burner when Coleman has an affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), a considerably younger, semi-literate woman who supports herself by working menial jobs, including at the college. Their relationship is threatened by the faculty members who forced Coleman from his job and by Faunia's ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris), a mentally unbalanced Vietnam War veteran who blames her for the deaths of their children in an accident. Flashbacks of Coleman's life reveal to the audience his secret: he is an African-American who has "passed" as a white Jewish man for most of his adult life.



The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Bergen International Film Festival, and the Hollywood Film Festival before its theatrical release in the US.

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $5,381,908 in the US and $19,481,896 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $24,863,304 against a budget of $30 million.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The Human Stain received mixed reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 42% of 155 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.48/10. The site's consensus reads, "Though the acting is fine, the leads are miscast, and the story is less powerful on screen than on the page."[3]

In his review in The New York Times, A.O. Scott called it "an honorable B+ term paper of a movie: sober, scrupulous and earnestly respectful of its literary source ... The filmmakers explicate Mr. Roth's themes with admirable clarity and care and observe his characters with delicate fondness, but they cannot hope to approximate the brilliance and rapacity of his voice, which holds all the novel's disparate elements together. Without the active intervention of Mr. Roth's intelligence ... the story fails to cohere ... At its best – which also tends to be at its quietest – The Human Stain allows you both to care about its characters and to think about the larger issues that their lives represent. Its deepest flaw is an inability to link those moments of empathy and insight into a continuous drama, to suggest that the characters' lives keep going when they are not on screen."[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "We have to suspend disbelief over the casting, but that's easier since we can believe the stories of these people. Not many movies probe into matters of identity or adaptation. Most movie characters are like Greek gods and comic book heroes: We learn their roles and powers at the beginning of the story, and they never change. Here are complex, troubled, flawed people, brave enough to breathe deeply and take one more risk with their lives."[5]

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle called it "a mediocre movie ... [that] falls victim to a fatal lack of narrative drive, suspense and drama. Kidman and Hopkins are wrong for their roles, and that, combined with a pervading inevitability, cuts the film off from any sustained vitality. The result is something admirable but lifeless."[6]

David Stratton of Variety described it as "an intelligent adaptation of Philip Roth's arguably unfilmable novel powered by two eye-catching performances ... A key problem Benton is unable to avoid is that Hopkins and Miller don't look (or talk) the least bit like one another. Miller, who gives a strong, muted performance, convinces as a light-skinned African-American in a way Hopkins never does, which is not to suggest that the Welsh-born actor doesn't give another intelligent, powerful portrayal. It's just that the believability gap looms large."[7]

In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers said, "Hopkins and Kidman ... are both as mesmerizing as they are miscast ... The Human Stain is heavy going. It's the flashes of dramatic lightning that make it a trip worth taking."[8]

The Times of London called it "sapping and unbelievable melodrama ... an unforgivably turgid lecture about political correctness."[9]

Awards and nominations[edit]


The soundtrack to The Human Stain was released September 23, 2003.

1."Opening Credits"Rachel Portman3:11
2."Iris Dies/Library Coleman Waits for Faunia"Rachel Portman2:29
3."It's in the Mail/End Credits"Rachel Portman7:03
4."The Two Urns/Father Dies"Rachel Portman2:31
5."Navy Recruiting"Rachel Portman1:01
6."Steena Rejects Coleman"Rachel Portman1:28
7."Audobon Society/The Crow"Rachel Portman2:35
8."Coleman's Funeral/Faunia Dances"Rachel Portman1:14
9."The Accident"Rachel Portman2:46
10."You Think Like a Prisoner"Rachel Portman2:05
11."Frozen Lake"Rachel Portman1:36
12."It's in the Mail/End Credits (Rewrite)"Rachel Portman7:03
Total length:35:02[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Human Stain". bfi. Archived from the original on January 30, 2018. Retrieved 10 October 2022.
  2. ^ The Human Stain Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "The Human Stain", Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ A.O. Scott (31 October 2003). "Movie Review - FILM REVIEW; Secrets of the Skin, And of the Heart". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger. "The Human Stain Movie Review & Film Summary (2003) - Roger Ebert".
  6. ^ "'Human Stain' doesn't quite wash / Philip Roth adaptation a nice effort but ultimately unbelievable". 31 October 2003.
  7. ^ Stratton, David (3 September 2003). "Review: 'The Human Stain'".
  8. ^ "Movie Review". Rolling Stone.[dead link]
  9. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times".
  10. ^ The Human Stain Soundtrack AllMusic. Retrieved February 19, 2014

External links[edit]