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1,235 Ratings

Bigger Than Life

Directed by Nicholas Ray
United States, 1956


When a suburban teacher and father (James Mason) is prescribed cortisone for a painful, possibly fatal affliction, he grows dangerously addicted to the experimental drug. This Eisenhower-era throat-grabber, shot in expressive CinemaScope, is an excoriating take on the nuclear family.

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Bigger Than Life Directed by Nicholas Ray
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.
December 22, 2017
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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.
June 19, 2013
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No indictment of experimental medicine, Bigger than Life is instead a profoundly disturbing reminder of our flawed flesh and blood and our precarious mind and spirit, as well as a withering review of patriarchy. If Bigger than Life’s fifties America critique had been made at any later date, it would undoubtedly come across as a histrionic indictment of an earlier era; the film’s power comes from the fact that it’s a dispatch from its time.
June 18, 2012
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What are people saying?

  • Ghostman's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    An outstanding picture by the great Nicolas Ray. Involving a schoolteacher who is prescribed cortisone in order to battle a life threatening illness, he quickly becomes addicted and deranged. Ray's film, as many have pointed out, obliterates the false image of the conservative Nuclear family and conservative family values and shows it to be fostering an environment ripe for abuse, misogyny, and infanticide [cont.]

  • lbunuel's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    Ray's excess & mad genius in one of his greatest achievements - a profoundly unsettling look at the horrors of American suburbia. David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Todd Haynes' Safe and Robert Altman's Short Cuts are all successors to this masterpiece, while American Beauty is its pulverization.

  • Renton47's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    I have a friend who refuses to apologise for drunken antics, saying we get a truer/bigger expression of who he is. I fear this has a startling impact on this film, a barely-contained excoriation of suburban values which quickly erases a thin veneer that masks the difference between content and hatred. Indeed it's big, maybe broad, and shocking, hard to believe from its time and place.

  • Matthew Martens's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    A drug that breaks the looking glass and reveals the shabby inanity of the world in which one's spent a whole life? Someone fill that poor man with morphine and turn up the television! A churningly strange film, strikingly erratic both morally and visually, lurid and vapid in turns, Bigger Than Life is above all a teetering tour de force for Mason, perfect in his role precisely because he seems so wrong for it.

  • FISCHER's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    Heureux avec sa femme Lou et leur fils Richie, l'instituteur Ed Avery est victime d'une grave attaque cardiaque. Son seul espoir d'échapper à la mort est un nouveau médicament appelé "cortisone". Hélas, les effets secondaires de ce remède considéré comme miraculeux, le rendent particulièrement agressif, égoïste, voire violent, envers son entourage ..... REMARQUABLE !

  • Filipe F. Coutinho's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    Sporadically great, Ray's film looks for a constant balance in terms of the symbolism it tries to convey. Sometimes it gets painfully obvious and sometimes it is unnecessarily ambiguous. Concurrently, it's a melodrama shot as a horror film. Bigger Than Life tries to be too many things at once. When it succeeds, it soars... but often times it doesn't. Still, it inspired two masterpieces: The Shining and Vertigo.

  • Ethan's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    James Mason gives a powerhouse performance in this scathing film from Nicholas Ray. Mason is intense as an over the counter drug addict. True filmmaking, you don't know what to expect when you watch this film.

  • T. J. Mesen's rating of the film Bigger Than Life

    What mastery Ray had for capturing ideas into single frames. A full-shot of a table at diner time; a false mask for a broken down household. An over-the-shoulder shot on a mirror; showing an individual's interior wounds. A shadow created and enlarged by a low-angle shot; expressing horror in the quotidian. A masterpiece.

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