Thursday, 10 April 2014

Home again

Nebraska (USA 2013)
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenwriter: Bob Nelson
Producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Cast: Will Forte, Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Screening: Lighthouse Cuba

In Nebraska Woody (Dern) stubbornly tries to walk from his home state of Montana to the neighboring state of Nebraska because he believes he's won a million dollars, which he can collect at the relevant head office. His wife (Squibb) and sons Ross (Odenkirk) and David (Forte) know it's a some sort of magazine subscription scam (a la Readers' Digest).

David decides to resolve the impasse by agreeing to drive Woody to Nebraska to claim the purported prise. On the way, they stop at Woody’s old hometown where, against David’s advice, Woody tells a few people about his 'big win'. This prompts many of his old friends, family and acquaintances to do their best to remind Woody about what he supposedly owes them.

The family dynamics on display here are authentically realised. I especially appreciated the awkward distant family encounters, such as cousins only able to converse about car engine sizes and how fast they drove from one small town to another.

Nebraska is a film about people – in particular 'provincial', working class people - losing connections to the world around them as they grow older.

David and the rest of the family struggle to understand Woody's desire to pursue the apparent promise of a million dollars, thinking it's simply a case of a senile old man being gullible. While there’s obviously an element of truth to that, David eventually comes to recognise Woody’s self-realisation that, despite all he had been through in his long life (and that was quite a lot, as you'll see watching the film),  he had not actually stamped his own identity on even his small part of the world. Or at least, that's how Woody felt. This was his chance for a legacy.

Like a lot of classic American cinema, Nebraska has an uneasy relationship with some of the USA's salient ideals, in particular the much vaunted American value of individualism. Nebraska suggests that Woody's feelings of disconnection and insignificance were not merely the result of individual character failings, but were at least in part the result of the social structures and pressures around his working class milieu.

By the end of the film Woody has arguably, despite his delusion that he'd won a million dollars, handled those pressures much more nobly than many of his home-town residents who chased his winnings for much more selfish reasons. On the other hand, as Woody drives the new truck that David bought him in consolation for not winning the big prize, some of his old friends seem to be quite happy to simply wave at him appreciatively as he drives past. It's a happy ending, in a way, but also a reminder that a lot of the people chasing Woody's imaginary wealth weren't cartoonishly bad people, but were in fact not much different from Woody himself.

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