Margaret is one of those movies that tries (and succeeds!) to teach you about life, it's essentially a coming-of-age story yet it spends most of the time exploring adulthood than adolscence.
The movie begins ,in earnest, when New York teenager Lisa Cohen and her quest to find a cowboy hat causes a horrific traffic accident where a distracted bus driver runs a red, and consequently drives over (and kills) a women pedestrian. Lisa is explicity linked to the entire accident, from start, as her flirting with the bus-driver over his cowboy hat causes him to be distracted from the road, to end, as she is the first to reach the dying woman and inevitably ends up sharing in the woman's last moments, in what becomes a very touching and endearing scene.
The death essentially becomes the catalyst for the movie and Lisa's entrance into adulthood, and then splits it's time on Lisa re-adjusting to her life post-witness-of-a-horrific-death and on her feeling of responsibility towards the entire accidents; she had been partially responsible in causing it and she had lied to the traffic investigator, claiming that the traffic light was green when it was red.
The movie explores responsibility and morality through Lisa, so essentially through a young, naive and idealistic viewpoint. Whereas her mother cautions her to think about the bus-drivers family and how his life will be affected by the truth, she only wants to show compassion and accept responsibility for her actions - as an adult should do. When she does speak to the bus-driver about the incident and her change of heart, she finds a man who is defensive, self-seeking and unrepentant, and displays his guilt through the typical bad guy move "talk to my lawyer".
While she accepts her responsibility and changes her statement, he doesn't, and the conflict changes from internal, to her versus him. How will she make him accept his responsibility? Will it be right? Is she justified in doing so?
What's fresh about the movie is the peculiarity of the incident. As we're told throughout the movie, neither's behaviour was necessarily criminal, yet it was immoral. Their actions, reponsibility and involvement with the lady who died is difficult to put into words, and it's displayed as something inexplicable, incomprehensible even, but the movie argues that though that may be the case we should certainly not stop trying to explain, comprehend or understand what happened. We have to affirm what happened, and in doing so the movie's message becomes seriously life-affirming.
The other part of the film is exactly that: life afirming. I mean, how exactly are you supposed to react to a stranger dying in your arms? Forget the responsibility aspect, this part of the film could have easily been a movie by itself, not that it wasn't explored fittingly in this movie.
She suddenly alights, she wants to lose her virginity, start fights and prove her point. This change, as a result of the accident, could be seen as a metaphor for adolscence, but it's mainly just an exploration of how we ,as humans, are fragile and how we respond to that realization.
Because despite her new fire, Lisa's relations suffer, she suddenly has no time or space for her mother in her life and her grades begin to suffer due to her sudden change in attitudes, ecspecially due to her involvements with fighting the bus-driver.
And that's what's so different and new about this movie: it's unsymphathetic. It highlights every aspect of her new life, and doesn't hide anything or any part of her personality or reactions. She's overdramatic and sometimes self-conceited, but that's not something to be hidden or looked over. It has to be accepted as part of the healing process, and only once it's acknowledged can you truly move on from a trauma.
You have to accept the incident/accident and it's immediete events, but also understand that it had an impact on you and your life and that's just as relevant to the incident as an immediete death: you have to let the incident become a part of your life, but not let it consume you.
So, despite it's incredible relevance to adolscence and the theme of responsibility, it can be seen as a metaphor for another event: 9/11. Not only is it set in New York, but the event is discussed several times in class discussions; that quickly turn to arguments with Lisa arguing with an Arab-American. The movie highlights the healing process after an indescribable and inconceivable tragedy, and explores the effects that the tragedy can have on people.
But ultimately, the movie is a very moving and thoughtful deliberation, and despite it's two-and-a-half hour running time, it's an enthralling watch that will not fail to inspire you.