The Human Stain

1h 46m 2003

Brief Synopsis

Coleman Silk is a man who, throughout his life, has been a master of deception and self-reinvention. As a promising college student, Coleman's first love, Steena, is shattered by a secret. Years later, as an esteemed professor, his career is ruined by false accusations. Now as he embarks on a scanda

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 31, 2003
Premiere Information
Venice International Film Festival: 30 Aug 2003; Toronto Film Festival: 4 Sep 2003
Production Company
Lakeshore Entertainment Group; Miramax Films Corp.; Stone Village Production in association with Cinerenta-Cineepsilon
Distribution Company
Miramax Films Corp.
United States
Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago, Illinois, United States; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States; Williamstown--Williams College, Massachusetts, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Human Stain by Philip Roth (Boston, 2000).

Technical Specs

1h 46m


On a snow-covered road in New England, retired Classics professor Coleman Silk and his much younger girl friend, Faunia Farley, are killed when their car is forced off the road into a frozen lake by an oncoming red pickup truck. Coleman's close friend, writer Nathan Zuckerman, stunned by the unexpected deaths, sets about examining Coleman's life: As a Jew from a poor background, Coleman attends prestigious Yale and Oxford graduate universities before becoming the Dean of Faculty at small Athena College in Massachusetts. Over the next thirty-five years, Coleman, a dedicated progressive, reforms the conservative college, first invigorating the stale academic program, then appointing the school's first female and African-American professors. In 1998, nearly two years before his death, and a month into the new term, during a class lecture Coleman grows irritated when he calls upon two students who are continually absent. Frustrated, Coleman asks the class why the students are never in attendance and wryly questions whether they exist or are "spooks." Shortly thereafter, the students, both African American, lodge a complaint against Coleman for making a racially insulting remark. Called before a board led by Professor Delphine Roux, an outraged Coleman denies that he knew the students' race, refuses to apologize and resigns in a furor. At home, Coleman angrily tells his wife Iris about the meeting and his resignation. Equally livid, Iris supports her husband's decision, only to be overcome by a sudden brain aneurysm that causes her death. Six months later, Coleman seeks out Nathan, who has taken refuge in a lone cabin in the country where he is attempting to return to writing after surviving prostate cancer and a divorce. Coleman asks Nathan to write about the hypocrisy of the academic establishment that caused Iris' death, but as the men become friends, Nathan encourages Coleman to tell his own story. Coleman spends a year working on the project, only to confess to Nathan that his attempts have failed. While packing the private effects he has been using for his memoir, Coleman ignores Nathan's urging to continue writing and pauses over a photograph of beautiful blonde Steena Paulsson, his great love when an undergraduate student at New York University. Coleman then confides in Nathan that he has begun an affair with a thirty-four-year-old woman, Faunia, a cleaning woman at the local post office and the college. Delighted by Faunia's frank sexual interest and made confident through the use of a sex stimulant drug, Coleman continues the affair, ignoring the disapproval by his friends and Athena's faculty. Although guarded and uncomfortable with Coleman's reputation and status in the town, Faunia finally confides in him that she came from a wealthy background that was shattered by her parents' divorce. Faunia relates that after being sexually abused by her stepfather, she ran away from home and succeeded as best as she could on her own. One evening at Faunia's room on the dairy farm where she also works, Coleman and Faunia are interrupted by the arrival of Lester Farley, Faunia's ex-husband, who drives a red pickup truck. Les, a Vietnam veteran who served two tours of duty, has spent several stretches in a veteran's rehabilitation program under psychiatric care and believes that Faunia used this to take away their two children. Coleman is surprised to learn these details of Faunia's past, but does not judge her. Despite Coleman's understanding, Faunia continues to feel uncomfortable about their social differences and suggests they stop seeing each other, but Coleman refuses. Another evening, Les again harasses Faunia and Coleman at night and, after contacting the police, Faunia demands that Les leave her alone. Les insults Coleman and then angrily accuses Faunia of murdering their children. Later after the police have escorted Les away, Faunia confesses to Coleman that she remains racked with guilt by the deaths of both her children in an accidental fire. Soon after, Coleman receives an anonymous note accusing him of taking advantage of a helpless, abused woman. Certain the note has come from an Athena faculty member, Coleman takes it to his lawyer, Nelson Primus, and requests advice. Incensed when both Nelson and later Nathan advise him to give up Faunia, Coleman recalls a pivotal event from his youth in the 1940s: As a successful boxer in high school, Coleman is surprised when his coach, Doc Chizner, assures him that he can win an athletic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Although very fair-skinned, Coleman is African American and asks Doc how he could be accepted. Doc guarantees that if Coleman refrains from identifying himself as black, the scholarship board will assume that he is Jewish, like Doc. At home, Coleman dines with his family, his father, former optometrist Clarence, his mother, Dorothy, a nurse, younger sister Ernestine and older brother Walter, on leave from the army. Clarence has learned of Coleman's boxing success and despite the news of a scholarship, coldly disapproves and insists that Coleman enroll in Howard University, a noted black school. That evening, Clarence, who now works as a waiter on a train dining car, collapses and dies of a heart attack. Shortly after, Dorothy consoles Coleman but is baffled by her son's insistent refusal to attend Howard as Clarence wished. When Coleman explains that he does not want to live defined by his race, but rather by his individual talents, Dorothy remains dismayed and perplexed. Coleman then enlists in the navy, identifying himself for the first time as white. Later, at NYU, Coleman and Steena have become seriously involved, although Coleman has not confessed his true race. Confident of her love for him, Coleman invites Steena to go home to meet Dorothy and, elated by the implications, she accepts. Although stunned upon seeing Dorothy, Steena remains outwardly unruffled during the visit, but on the train ride home breaks down and acknowledges to Coleman that she cannot continue their relationship. Deeply hurt, Coleman takes his anger out by becoming a professional boxer known as "Silky" Silk and is especially brutal to black opponents. In the present, Nathan again entreats Coleman to stop seeing Faunia as her continued association with Les could prove dangerous. Instead, Coleman convinces Faunia to stay overnight at his home for the first time. The next morning, however, when Coleman makes breakfast for her, Faunia unexpectedly bursts into anger over his unassuming kindness and denounces him for his safe, comfortable life in which he has never suffered. Faunia flees from the house, but after spending most of the day reflecting on her past, returns and offers Coleman an apology. Coleman then admits he has something to tell her that no one else knows. That afternoon, Coleman and Faunia go for a drive and are forced off the road to their deaths by Les. Nathan later learns that an inquiry by the VA psychiatric board concludes that Les is delusional, but cannot establish that he was responsible for the accident. Coleman's sister Ernestine attends his funeral and Nathan approaches her, believing she is the wife of an Athena faculty member. Ernestine explains her identity and, surprised but fascinated, Nathan asks for more details of Coleman's past: After graduating from NYU, Coleman visits Dorothy bearing a photograph of Iris, a young Jewish woman he has been dating, whom he intends to marry. When Dorothy remarks that he has not brought Iris to meet her, Coleman uncomfortably admits that he has told Iris that his parents are dead. Realizing that Coleman means never to reveal his identity to Iris and intends to cut himself off entirely from his family and roots, Dorothy sadly berates her son and, with a broken heart, bids him farewell. Later that evening, Walter visits Coleman and orders him never to see Dorothy again. In the present, Ernestine relates that she was the only family member to keep in touch with Coleman throughout the years, but never understood why he felt it necessary to lie his entire life. Ernestine and Nathan wonder if Coleman ever revealed his past to anyone. After the publication of Nathan's book on Coleman's controversial life, Nathan seeks out Les to let him know that he holds Les responsible for Coleman and Faunia's death. Les responds that no one else will ever really know the truth.


Anthony Hopkins

Coleman Silk

Nicole Kidman

Faunia Farley

Ed Harris

Lester Farley

Gary Sinise

Nathan Zuckerman

Wentworth Miller

Young Coleman

Jacinda Barrett

Steena Paulsson

Harry Lennix

Mr. [Clarence] Silk

Clark Gregg

Nelson Primus

Anna Deavere Smith

Mrs. [Dorothy] Silk

Lizan Mitchell


Kerry Washington


Phyllis Newman

Iris Silk

Margo Martindale


Ron Canada

Herb Keble

Mili Avital

Young Iris

Danny Blanco Hall

Walter [Silk]

Kristen Blevins

Young Ernestine [Silk]

Anne Dudek

Lisa Silk

Mimi Kuzyk

Professor Delphine Roux

John Finn

Louie Borero

Jeff Perry

Tennis player

Rick Snyder

Tennis player

Danny Stone

Tennis player

Vito Defilippo

Mark Silk

Robert Higden

Jeff Silk

Vlasta Vrana

Solly Tabak

Richard Mawe

Doc Chizner

Tom Rack


Bill Rowat


Richard Russo

Faculty committee member

Andrew Forge

Faculty committee member

Stella Arroyave

Faculty committee member

Jude Beny


Peter Cunningham


John Cenatiempo


Frank Proctor


Deano Clavet

Boxing coach

Sylvain Doré

St. Nicholas referee

Neville Edwards

Coleman's cornerman

Phillip Colette Gervais

Train conductor

Allison Davis

Diner on the train

Charles W. Gray


Edward Lafferty

Rally protester

Steven Grisé

Rally protester

Kim Gandol Ferenczi

Rally protester

Terry Haig

Police officer #2

Laurent Imbault

Administrative officer

Sylvian Landry

Maitre d'

Pierre Leblanc

Naval recruiter

Nwamiko Madden

Young man on porch

Luc Morissette

Street photographer

Philip Pretten

Record store manager

Jessica Shulte


Kate Whitney

Mrs. Primus

Brea Asher

Primus' secretary

Russell Yuen

Chinese waiter

Jimmy Chang

Chinese restaurant owner

Lydia Zadel

Nature center girl


Richard Abate Sr.

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Richard Abate Jr.

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Jean-françois Abran

Lighting tech

Marco Aiello

Digital restoration, Technique

Ellie Mae Aitken

Assistant to Ms. Kidman

Robert Albano

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Bill Allen

Dolby Sound consultant

Nancy Allen

Assistant Music Editor

Stuart Allen

Technocrane op, Massachusetts unit

Bob Andres

1st company grip, Massachusetts unit

Bernard April

Assistant chief lighting tech

Fabienne April

Wardrobe Supervisor

Florence April-borgeat

Extras dresser

Deborah Aquila


Karl Archambault

Unit Manager

Serge Archambault

Head painter

Jeff Atmajian


Denise Avallon

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Cassandra Barbour

Rights & clearances

Guillaume Bard


Bob Baron

ADR mixer, Paramount, L.A.

Mario Barrière


Michael Barry

Re-rec mixer

Allison Barton

2d company grip, Massachusetts unit

Dondi Bastone

Music Supervisor

Sophie Béasse

Mr. Hopkins' dresser

Lynn Beaudin

Assistant loc Manager

Stéphanie Beaudin

Loc scout

André Beaudry


Maude Beaunoyer

Assistant picture car Coordinator

Tim Belcher

Digital intermediate prod, Technique

Woody Bell

Grip, Massachusetts unit

Catherine Bellazzi

Cable person

Marie Bellemare

Wardrobe tech

Wyatt Belton

Mr. Hopkins' hairdresser

Maggy Belzile

Accounting clerk

Ariane Benmergui


Pierre Bergeron


Irving Berlin


Carlos Bermudez

Assistant chief lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

Sylvain Bernier

Chief lighting tech

Bruno Bienvenue


Pat Birch


Joe Bishop


Bob Blanks

Chief technology officer, Technique

Kent Blocher

1st Assistant Editor

Josée Boisvert

Wardrobe mistress

Artaya Boonsoong

Visual Effects artist, Moon Against Man

Joe Bossi

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Joan G. Bostwick

2d 2d Assistant Director, Massachusetts unit

Jérome Bouchard

Rigging lighting tech

Michel Boulanger


David Boulton

ADR mixer, Sound One, N.Y.

Eric Boyle

Rigging grip, Massachusetts unit

Ron Bozman

1st Assistant Director, Massachusetts unit

Ron Bozman

Executive Producer

Mario Brabent

Rigging grip

Éric Brais

Assistant picture car Coordinator

Julie Breton

Extras casting

R. J. Broadhurst

Digital consultant, Massachusetts unit

Richard Brunet


Jada Budrick

Colorist Assistant, Technique

Laurie Buehler

Seamstress, Massachusetts unit

Milton Buras

Hairstylist, Massachusetts unit

Walter Byrns


Marie Caihier Chartrand

Assistant props buyer

Bertrand Calmeau

Office driver

Dave Cambria

Lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

Tony Campenni

Dolly grip, Massachusetts unit

John Capron

Set dresser, Massachusetts unit

Jean Cardinal

Crow handler

Annie Carignan

Faunia's stunt double

Mark Casey

Genny op, Massachusetts unit

Jason Cavalier

Stunt cop

Kevin Chabonier

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Gillian Chandler

Makeup Artist

Barbara Chappell

Contact lens tech, Massachusetts unit

Daniel Charbonneau


Winnie Cheng

Post prod Coordinator

Danica Chipman

Assistant Props, Massachusetts unit

Daniel Chretien Jr.

Rigging lighting tech

Sue Christy

Craft service, Massachusetts unit

Deborah Clapp

Medic, Massachusetts unit

Terry Claybon

Boxing training

Eric Coates


Steven B. Cohen

Digital cinema consultant

Robin D. Cook

Toronto casting

Nicola Corbo

Office driver

Marko Costanza

Foley artist

Robert Côté

Assistant Props master

Marie-claude Couture

Gin rummy coach

Martin Couture


Chris Cozens

Auricle op

Louis Craig

SPFX Supervisor

Stephen Craig


John Cronk

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Robert Cuddy

Lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

Alex Curzi


Guy Danella

Loc P.A., Massachusetts unit

Jessica Daniels

Casting Assistant

Ross Danielson

Coordinator for LaserPacific

Caroline Daoud

Contact lens tech

Diane Daoust

Wardrobe runner

Pierre Daudelin

Rigging lighting tech

Hannah Davies

Assistant to Rachel Portman

Scott Davis

Rigging chief lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

Jean-maurice De Ernsted

Dolly grip

Bridget De Socio

Main and end titles Designer

Jean Decarie

Genny op

Jacinthe Demers

Wardrobe mistress

Jean-yves Denis


Marie-soleil Dénommé

Assistant dec

Jean Desroches


Chris Dibble

Scoring eng

Jerry Dicarlo

Addl hair, Massachusetts unit

Lee Dichter

Re-rec mixer

Chantal Difilippo

Assistant Wardrobe mistress

Mike Dileso

Rigging 1st company grip, Massachusetts unit

Justin Dittrich

Office Assistant, Massachusetts unit

Tom Dolan

Assistant chief lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

James Donahue

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Kelly Doran

Cable person, Massachusetts unit

Stéphane Doyon

Set P.A.

Yves Drapeau

1st Assistant Photographer

Tim Driscoll

Rigging 2d company grip, Massachusetts unit

Amélie Duceppe

Film loader

Bob Dudley

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Dave Duggan

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Aleck Duncan


Jacques Dupuis

Rigging 2d company grip

André Duval


Gilbert Eatherton

Driver, Massachusetts unit

Evan Edelist

Executive prod, Technique

Duke Ellington


Lang Elliott

SFX rec

Brian Ellis


Adam Ellison

Assistant to Mr. Lucchesi

Meryl Emmerton

Prod Coordinator, Massachusetts unit

Carl émond

Prod accountant

Gilles émond


Jennifer Engel

Set dresser, Massachusetts unit

Kendall Errair

Ms. Kidman's Costume

Jean Yves Escoffier

Director of Photography

Louise Eusanio

Extras dresser

Benoit Falardeau

Loc scout

Kevin Fennessy

Extras casting, Massachusetts unit

Mark Fitzgerald

Loc Manager, Massachusetts unit

Bill Flanagan

Grip, Massachusetts unit

Jimmy Flynn

Transportation Coordinator, Massachusetts unit

Jake Forester

Rigging grip, Massachusetts unit

Jay Fortune

Chief lighting tech, Massachusetts unit

Marisa Forzano

Associate Producer

Jean Frenette

Stunt Coordinator

Kyra Friedman

Set dec, Massachusetts unit

Chantal Gagné

Accounting clerk

Jocelyne Gagné

1st Assistant accountant

Valérie Gagné

Payroll accounting

Luc Gagnier


Eames Gagnon

Rigging chief lighting tech

Pedro B. Gandol

1st Assistant Director

Rolando Garcia

Extras casting P.A., Massachusetts unit

Tim Gatena

Colorist Assistant, Technique

Véronique Gaudet

Contact lens tech

Benoît Gauhier

Stunt cop

Atelier Nina Gauvin


John Gendron


Abbot Genser

Still Photographer, Massachusetts unit

George Gershwin


Ira Gershwin


Sébastien Gervais


Philippe Gilbert


Kristian Girard

Assistant unit Manager

Stéphanie Girard-hamelin


Rémi Giroux


Nicolas Godbout


Mick Gormaley

Assistant Sound Editor

Marco Grégoire


David Gropman

Production Design

Geneviève Hamel

Art Department runner

Marjorie Hamel

Screenplay trainee

Réal Hamel

Picture car Coordinator

George Hamer

Orch contractor

Arthur Hamilton


Martin Handfield

Props Master

Sofie Handfield

Prod Coordinator

Johnny Harkala


Rob Harris

Unit Publicist

Manal Hassib

Travel Coordinator

Steven Haun

Digital intermediate Coordinator, Technique

Éric Hébert

SPFX tech

Tricia Heine

Makeup artist, Massachusetts unit

Yannick Henrico


Woody Herman


Alex Hernandez

Imaging tech, Technique

Harry Higgins


Christopher Hills-wright

Assistant Editor, Montréal

Elizabeth Himelstein

Ms. Kidman's dialect coach

Steven Hodge

Imaging tech, Technique

Micky Hohl

Film runner, Massachusetts unit

Debbie Holbrook

Wardrobe Supervisor, Massachusetts unit

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 31, 2003
Premiere Information
Venice International Film Festival: 30 Aug 2003; Toronto Film Festival: 4 Sep 2003
Production Company
Lakeshore Entertainment Group; Miramax Films Corp.; Stone Village Production in association with Cinerenta-Cineepsilon
Distribution Company
Miramax Films Corp.
United States
Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago, Illinois, United States; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States; Williamstown--Williams College, Massachusetts, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Human Stain by Philip Roth (Boston, 2000).

Technical Specs

1h 46m




The Human Stain was shot on location in Quebec, Canada and at Williams College, Williamstown, MA. The film, which moves backward and forward in time, is narrated in voice-over by "Nathan Zuckerman," played by Gary Sinise. Author Philip Roth used the Zuckerman character in several of his other novels (including one titled Zuckerman Unbound), and Zuckerman is generally acknowledged to be a stand-in or alter ego for Roth. Many critics noted the difficulties of adapting Roth's complex novel, which, along with its central theme of an African American "passing for white," also addressed life in the academic establishment, American politics and culture of the late 1990s and religion.
       A notable omission from the novel to the film was the deletion of "Coleman" and "Iris Silk's" children. Although there are onscreen credits for actors portraying "Lisa," "Mark" and "Jeff Silk," neither the characters nor the actors appeared in the released film. According to an interview with screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, their parts were shot but cut from the released picture.
       The film opens with the car accident in which Coleman and "Faunia Farley" are killed, but the dirver of the pickup truck is not shown. Coleman and Faunia's deaths are not revealed until mid-way through the novel. The film implies that Coleman identifies himself as Jewish because of the influence of his boxing coach, "Doc Chizner," but in the book Coleman refuses Doc's suggestion, only identifying himself as Jewish when college friends and associates repeatedly identify him as Jewish. Another significant difference between the film and the novel is that in the novel, Coleman's father, "Clarence," dies while Coleman is in his first semester at Howard University, located in Washington, D.C., where Coleman bristles against being circumscribed as a black man, thus leading to his decision to pass for white. Another major difference is that in the film, after "Steena Paulsson" rejects Coleman, he becomes a professional boxer who is especially brutal to black opponents. In the novel, Coleman gives up boxing when he meets Steena.
       According to a Daily Variety article, the release of The Human Stain was postponed after its showing at the Toronto Film Festival from 26 September to 31 October in order to better position the film as an Academy Award contender. Articles noted that the film had a mixed reception with audiences at both the Venice and the Toronto Film Festivals, which May have prompted the release date change. Many reviews criticized the casting of Welsh-born actor Anthony Hopkins as the light-skinned, African-American Coleman. The Variety reviewer noted the "film's questionable elements...especially the casting of Anthony Hopkins...playing an African-American, a prospect that seems...utterly preposterous," but acknowledged the difficulty in casting for this particular story. Producers responded that casting a known black actor would have robbed the film of a crucial narrative element of complexity and surprise.
       The Human Stain marked the feature film debut of Wentworth Miller. The film was dedicated to cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier, who died shortly after its completion. The Human Stain was selected by AFI as one of the top ten films of 2003.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted one of the 10 best films of 2003 by the American Film Institute (AFI).

Released in United States 2003

Released in United States Fall October 31, 2003

Released in United States on Video July 20, 2004

Released in United States September 2003

Shown at London Film Festival October 22-November 6, 2003.

Shown at Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Screening) September 4-13, 2003.

Shown at Venice International Film Festival (out of competition) August 27 - September 6, 2003.

Released in United States 2003 (Shown at London Film Festival October 22-November 6, 2003.)

Released in United States 2003 (Shown at Venice International Film Festival (out of competition) August 27 - September 6, 2003.)

Philip Roth reportedly received low six against low seven figures for the rights to his novel, "The Human Stain."

Philip Roth reportedly received low six against low seven figures for the rights to his novel, "The Human Stain."

Released in United States on Video July 20, 2004

Released in United States September 2003 (Shown at Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Screening) September 4-13, 2003.)

Released in United States Fall October 31, 2003