Editor’s Note: This is a guest review by JSA reader Jim Geiger.
With Oscar season upon us, films are topics of conversation for all of us and NEBRASKA deserves its place among this year’s best. If issues of sacred aging are important to you this wonderful film belongs in your personal filmography.
As with any great film, there are great performances and this one is no different. Bruce Dern has given the performance of a lifetime and Will Forte changes from comedian to actor right before your eyes. If you are interested in film technique, Alexander Payne’s (Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt, Sideways and the Descendants) use of black and white places him among today’s best directors. But if you care about the world you live in, this is a film for the ages.
Be warned, if you are in love with the idea of poverty, NEBRASKA challenges you to love the poor. If you are in love with the idea of a kinder, gentler Middle America be prepared to discover that America’s heartland is no different than other places confronted by change and despair. If you think a priori “family” is good, your views will be challenged by Dern’s visit to his hometown. Payne artfully contrasts dinner at the Grants with the now famous Easter dinner scene in ANNIE HALL.
BUT if you are seeking answers about how to approach elderly parents as well as family members who are struggling with same, look no further. NEBRASKA makes you rethink what really matters to you AND your elderly parent. Its real trick is that it emphasizes one must search for what really matters; not just take charge, not just do your duty, but actually search.
In a recent “Inside the Actors Studio” Bruce Dern exhorts the audience of aspiring actors to “show your heart in public.” In this performance Dern truly “shows his heart” as he gives life to Woody Grant. His performance forces you to think about Alzheimer’s and almost every other consequence of aging. Woody Grant reminds us to be vigilant to notice the difference between memory loss and secrets (and lies). We must care about those secrets and respect them.
Woody Grant offers the idea that secrets are NOT about us; they are about our parents. Woody Grant reminds us why it is important to not ignore sadness or confuse sadness with depression; why it is important, not to judge but, to extoll the life we are caring for.
Director Payne offers us the quaint, yet complex idea that life is about happiness; not the pursuit of happiness. He suggests that what makes us happy narrows but hardens as we age while that which makes us unhappy expands with memories of a long life. Yet if care givers seek what makes their elderly parent happy, the journey will be worth the effort for both.
It is not enough to keep your elderly parents safe. It is not enough to be sure they have enough food. It is not enough to take care of their medical needs. Will Forte’s character, David Grant, reminds us that it is only when we share our parent’s search for happiness do we go beyond duty and finally ponder the morality of our own behavior. Woody, ever the parent, allows for his son’s journey.
NEBRASKA….see it alone, think about it; see it with friends, talk about it! At the moment you compartmentalize it, you have missed its existential point.