There are quite a few lines in the incredibly visually rich movie “Nebraska” that resonated with me. Though the characters speak few words, when they do, you listen. It’s funny how most of us don’t think too much about our parents’ inner lives until we are much older and when it’s almost too late as they “can’t remember” when you ask questions. But David “Davey” Grant gets to have a few exchanges with his father, Woody, that move this story along emotionally. One such exchange is when they are looking out on to Nebraska farm land with the round bales of hay lying across the horizon and the pasture dotted with black Angus cows.
David asks his father:
“Did you ever want to farm like your dad?”
“I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter.”
In the script David asks again if his dad had it to do all over would he have stayed here and farmed. Woody replies that you can’t “do it all over”.
But people try to “do it all over” in many different ways. When I was an actor and director in New York City in the 1980s, I directed plays by a wonderful playwright Jack Heifner. Jack’s play “Vanities” held the record for longest Off Broadway run for quite a few years. It is what made Kathy Bates a star. I directed a one act play of his called “Twister”. It was about a small plain town in Texas that is wiped away by a tornado. It looked a lot like the desolate town of Hawthorn in “Nebraska”. There are only two people left, Betty and Roy. When they find each other after the storm, Roy says he wants to find their stuff like her stuffed animals and a mattress and then bring them to where their house used to be. He wants to rebuild it exactly like it was. Betty doesn’t want any of the “stuff” because it’s just junk. She wants to go away and have a brand new prettier life. She wants to be born again. At the end she leaves and Roy is left alone with the rubble.
Jack returns to this born again theme in several of his plays. There are many times that people want to reinvent themselves and be “born again”. Sometimes it’s as simple as going off to college or moving to another town or state. Sometimes it’s getting a divorce and starting a supposedly new life.
More often than not no one can do a complete do over of themselves unless they are actually making it all up like a grifter or con artist or someone mentally ill like Cate Blanchett’s character in “Blue Jasmine” who announces “People reinvent themselves….I met someone. I’m a new person.” But for most people, you don’t really reinvent yourself, but you can come to terms with who you really are. Carl Jung called this process “individuation”. It’s “getting to know you, getting to know all about you.” It’s accepting the quirks that make you an individual while at the same time seeing what makes you part of the whole of humanity. In the Bible, Paul says that we are “all of one body, with gifts differing.” We each have different gifts but together we make a whole. Good marriages and partnerships work that way.
In “Nebraska” “Davey” Grant finds out a whole lot about gifts and giving on this road trip with his dad. He has inherited his Dad’s kindness and sense of humor and that’s the payoff. Is it better than a million bucks? Doesn’t matter. It’s a great story.
I am happy to report that after 15 years, Evie Taloney is back in the saddle writing “Evie Taloney’s ‘Flics Worth Ropin'”. Her sidekick Cowboy Clay is also loping alongside her. Her latest review is on Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”.
Cowboy Clay and I just got done watching Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris”. It’s a treat, I’ll tell you, for the eyes and the ears. You can’t watch a movie about Paris without thinking about food and drink though. So I was wondering what kind of food best describes this movie and, at first, I thought of a bonbon. But that doesn’t fit. This movie is not a small confection. But it’s no Croque Monsieur, either. There is no ham in this sandwich. This is a genuinely funny movie with a timely message. So, it’s more like an inverted Creme Brulee. It’s got a hard crunchy truth underneath it’s warm creamy custard surface.
This is a movie about Gil played by Owen Wilson who has a job. But he hates his job. Unlike most Americans though he makes a lot of money at this job. He writes screenplays and his screenplays are indeed bonbons and don’t make him happy. He wants to quit his job and work on his novel. Yes, he wants to work but not at a job.
So what’s to stop him? Well it’s his fiancee, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams and her rich parents played by Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller. Gil sees Paris as the place where great artists and writers have found their muses. He loves the city. Inez and her parents see Paris as a place to shop and hate the French. Inez wants to go home and decorate their future house in Malibu. Gil wants to stay and live his dream of writing a great American novel. For Inez, it’s what Gil earns not what he does.
Most people here don’t have the luxury to choose meaningful work over a job. And people like Gil often have the luxury but don’t have the courage to act on their compulsion.
So what compels him forward? I’m not going into detail but it involves hanging out with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and a bunch more characters from the 1920s. Gil finds out how much impact these writers had on him. “T.S. Eliot? Prufrock is like my mantra.” And so he dreams of having an impact on writers to come.
You don’t have to be a film major to enjoy Gil’s encounter with the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel or an English major to laugh out loud at Zelda who is a pistol and Ernest “Have you ever shot a charging lion?” who is very very earnest.
In the end this film is not about Gil but about Paris. Paris compels. It compels because people in Paris sit in cafes and drink coffee and wine and talk for hours. They play the game of bolls and talk while they play. They philosophize. They fraternize. They read essays and take the time to discuss ideas. They take the time to talk to each other rather than sit in front of TVs. They live for these hours of talk. This cafe life is primary. Their jobs are secondary.
They can do this partly because they work 8 hour days and have simple and easy commutes. They don’t arrive home dog tired after fighting traffic. They run up the stairs to their apartment, put on some fresh makeup or a quick brush to the hair and off they go for their evening of cafe life.
When I asked Cowboy Clay what he thought, he said “That city is real nice.” You betcha.