'Fever' asks: What is the world coming to?

A persistent feeling of uneasiness taints The Fever, the new film based on Wallace Shawn's controversial play. The film's opening credits flash with a frantic, dramatic score, and we are introduced to a nameless woman (Vanessa Redgrave) unable to sleep in a dingy third-world hotel. This marks the beginning of her nightlong fever.

Redgrave's character relates the story as a flashback, her fragile yet strong voice detailing her thoughts and experiences. We travel with the protagonist back in time to the woman's experiences in England, presumably London. She is a privileged woman who owns everything she needs and more but suddenly goes through a series of experiences that cause her to question this life.

Fever's director, Carlo Nero, makes use of documentary-like first-person narrative, abstract animation, a fragmented timeline and quick snapshots of scenes for an original, multifaceted, sometimes-jolting effect. Redgrave's character narrates, "Suddenly, for a moment, I see myself from the outside, as if I were looking at myself," observing that she appears absolutely normal and indistinguishable from any other woman. Do her inner thoughts matter if her actions are just like anyone else's?

The focus of the protagonist's crisis is the divide between the privileged and the poor. Unexpectedly, her thoughts become hyper-focused on this phenomenon and she obsesses over the materialism of her world, realizing that she is very much a part of it herself. She learns about an unnamed foreign country and decides she must visit and experience this other world. While her original destination is quaint and welcoming, she learns about a war-torn, politically unstable country from a war journalist (Michael Moore in his first dramatic role) and decides to go there as well.

The second country is a stark contrast, with colorless, deteriorating buildings and a terrorized population. Politically motivated murder and torture are commonplace, and startling photos of victims fly rapid-fire across the screen. The woman meets a young rebel (Angelina Jolie) who tells her own story of tragedy and resulting anger. While Jolie's foreign accent is unconvincing, she effectively depicts her character's firm resolution and desperation. The protagonist soon returns home, but her thoughts about others' suffering turn her value system upside down; she decides she must return to the third world, where she is first afflicted with the fever.

The director, Carlo Nero, decides literally to split the woman into two people as she explores her view of the world's inherent unfairness. She asks herself, "Why does your work bring you so much money, while their work brings them practically nothing?" Are first-world citizens entitled to what we have? Do we deserve it more than those unfortunate enough to be born in poverty-ravaged nations? Should we feel guilt? We see her wrenched apart by these questions, to which there are no concrete answers.

Redgrave portrays the woman and her conflicting lines of thought magnificently. Her character, while in England, is sophisticated and put-together, a prime example of graceful age. When her value system falls to pieces, however, she melts away in raw, exquisite pain and conflict.

The movie ends on an ambiguous note, which can be effective or completely unsatisfactory, depending on your expectations. Nero does not tell us what we should believe, nor does he reveal the woman's conclusions concerning the first- and third-world divide. Can a person feel badly for the poor, keep her own material possessions, and still be morally sound? The film brings up the loaded question and allows us to decide for ourselves, though we will likely never reach a satisfactory decision.

See The Fever Thursday at 7 p.m. at Culbreth.

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