There’s a quaint little movie theater near me, in the same parking lot as its less quaint, regular movie theater sibling. It used to be a quaint something else, but has since been refurbished and converted. Now it screens smaller independent films and art films and the like.
I’ve taken to going there on Sunday afternoons because that’s the quaintest time of the week, but I guess “quaint” and “20-something” aren’t quite PB and J because everyone else at the Sunday afternoon showings is about 200 years older than me. And they are a different breed.
They don’t understand the concept of a seat buffer. They provide confused commentary on any and every semblance of plot development. They gasp if someone says “butt,” or even “but,” or flashes an ankle. Their driver’s licenses are in sepia tone.
It’s like they’re from a different world. A world occupied by my grandparents. An alien world of black and white, almost unreal in its lack or color as if it were some half-true memory. It’s a world director Alexander Payne brought me into in his latest film, Nebraska.
Nebraska’s greatest, and downright Herculean, strength is that it disabuses you of the notion that black and white photographs of your parents and their parents are from another world. That events in the lives of those before you are somehow lesser, or transpired to a lesser extent.
We like a good coming of age story. We like movies that bring us into the most exciting, most hilarious, most dramatic slice of a character or caricature’s life. Throughout Nebraska you learn that Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, has indeed had those slices of life we so pine for in our movies. But they aren’t the slices of life covered here. The film follows Woody through a portion of his life we as an audience may just as well have written off, assuming it to be a bland blur or snail’s-pace conversational monotony, hours of silent nothing and half-conscious rumination. A complete and utter epilogue.
Nebraska revels in that assumption.
After receiving a piece of junk mail claiming he has won a million dollars, Woody Grant, unable to drive in his advanced age, takes to walking to Nebraska from his home in Billings, Montana to collect his prize. He’s picked up by the police several times and chided by his wife Kate, played by a phenomenal June Squibb, but his pursuit persists.
Finally Woody’s son David decides to take a long weekend and drive his father to Nebraska. Saturday Night Live veteran Will Forte plays David, who is the lens we the audience, or at least me the young person, see the film’s black and white world through. The acting chops Forte displays in Nebraska are first rate.
At the beginning of the film David is me: a young, or at least younger, man in a theater full of old people that presumably are too far removed from the times to really “get it.” And like I begrudgingly listen to two old ladies sitting next to me gossip in astonishment at the sight of McConaughey’s butt crack in Dallas Buyers Club (spoiler alert), David humors his father and departs on a labor of love disguised as a road trip.
By the end of Nebraska David and I both grew to understand the world of our ancestors wasn’t black and white because it was some half-realized step on the path to today. It wasn’t black and white at all.
It just had old cameras.
I call my parents and grandparents on Sunday evening. When I walked out of the theater after Nebraska I was exhilarated by the possibilities of all the things I didn’t know about them and the untold stories I still had time to hear.
In the unlikely scenario that I’m not murdered by some sort of global warming monster or run over by a drone I’d like to think that one day I’ll have children and grandchildren and an El Camino.
I sincerely hope they watch Nebraska.
1. Have you ever been to Nebraska?
2. Yeah, me neither.
For more on this year’s award-nominated movies: