Movie Review: Lion

Today I finally secured a copy of the last Best Picture nominated film on my list. Although I watched movie #8, La La Land, again last week, I didn’t do a second review. You can read my original movie review for this fun musical HERE.

This evening I settled in to watch Lion.

Movie Review Lion
Lion stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Priyanka Bose and Abhishek Bharate. Garth Davis directed this biographical drama, based on the book by Saroo Brierley. The movie is rated PG-13, for adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 58 minutes. Lion was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Original Musical Score, Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Kidman, Best Supporting Actor for Patel and Best Picture. It did not win in any categories.

Young Saroo (Pawar), is a five year old boy living in a small rural village in India. He often helps his brother, Guddu (Bharate), scrounge for food and coins in empty trains to help support his impoverished family. Saroo’s single mother, Kamla (Bose), is a laborer who struggles to provide for her three children.

Movie Review: Lion
In spite of their dire living conditions, or perhaps because of them, Guddu and Saroo share a close brotherly bond. They find joy in swimming together in the river, catching rides on trains and walking along the railroad tracks.

Against his better judgement, Guddu takes his little brother along for a nighttime job, working in a field. Little Saroo can’t stay awake, so Guddu leaves him at the train station, several stops from their village, and tells him to stay there until he returns. Saroo wakes up disoriented, and wanders onto an empty train, where he falls asleep again.

Hours later Saroo awakens to find the decommissioned train speeding down the track. The boy is alone and locked inside the train. Several days, and almost 2000 kilometers later, the train finally stops in Calcutta. Saroo, who doesn’t speak or understand Bengali, lives for a couple of harrowing months on the streets of that teeming city. He doesn’t know his last name or his mum’s name, and no one recognizes the name of his village. Saroo appears to be another homeless street kid. He is finally placed in an overcrowded orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple, John (Wenham) and Sue (Kidman) Brierley.

Movie Review: Lion
Saroo adjusts to living with his new family, learning to speak English, and slowly the memories of his life in India receed. Until he reaches adulthood.

Older Saroo (Patel) is a bright, privileged young man who has a girlfriend, Lucy (Mara), and a career ahead in hotel management. But memories begin to stir, fragments from his past that bring a flood of emotions and create an ache in his heart for his first home and his first family.

Using dogged determination and a new online program called Google Earth, Saroo begins a painstaking and obsessive five year search to trace his steps back to his home village. He doesn’t want to appear ungrateful to his adoptive parents. But he is haunted by the awareness that his family in India never knew what happened to them and that they have searched for him, screaming out his name daily.

It’s been 25 years since he got lost. Can Saroo find his way home? And what might he find, if he does?

Movie Review: Lion
What a heart touching, and heart rending, film. I deliberately avoid reading reviews or articles about the Best Picture nominated films, so I can watch with an open heart and mind. Therefore, I didn’t know how this true story was going to conclude. I’m not going to reveal the end here either.

I can reveal that this is a powerful and poignant look at the strong desire we all have to find our way home. And in connecting with our place of origin, we rediscover ourselves, and come to know ourselves at a much deeper level.

Movie Review: Lion

As a real life adoptive mother, Kidman brought compassion and authenticity to the role of Saroo’s new mom. Patel was beautifully haunted as the older Saroo. And I was totally undone by young Pawar, who portrays the boy Saroo. Child actors can be so impressive. Pawar was amazing. He reminded me a little too much of my great nephew Kaleb, who is almost five.

The lost children of Calcutta broke my heart. The film’s credits informs that 80,000 children go missing in India each year, and 11 million children live on the streets. What staggering numbers. For the release of this film, the foundation #LionHeart was launched in collaboration between the production companies of this film, See-Saw Films, The Weinstein Company and The Charity Network. It will provide financial support to those millions of children living on the streets of India.

Movie Review Lion
I’ve completed the Best Picture nominated films for 2017. They all spoke to me in some way, deepening my appreciation for life or moving me to compassion for the brokenness of so many people. My top three favorite movies out of the nine nominated were La La Land, Hidden Figures and Lion.

Once again, I am grateful for this yearly tradition. Without it, I would miss some excellent films. They help me to grow, expand my heart, and cause me to see myself and the world through fresh eyes. And that is a powerful return for my investment of spending time watching movies.

Movie Review Lion
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Movie Review: Hidden Figures

I have looked forward to watching today’s best picture nominated film. The rainy afternoon presented the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and view film 7 of 9 on my list, Hidden Figures.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures stars Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst. This historical drama was directed by Theodore Melfi and carries a PG rating for mild language. It has a run time of 2 hours and 7 minutes. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Picture. It did not win in any category.

This based on true events story follows three amazing African American women as they offer their brilliance to NASA during America’s race to space in the early 1960s. While bringing their intellect to the space program they struggle with racial discrimination, gender inequality, and long hours spent working away from their families.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Katherine G Johnson (Henson) was a child mathematical genius who graduated from college at age 18 with degrees in mathematics and French. She works with her friends Mary (Monáe) and Dorothy (Spencer) in West Area Computing division, which is segregated from the rest of the Langley Research Center Campus. The women are computers, doing complex math computations and calculations on paper.

Because of her ability to do analytical geometry, Katherine is moved to the Space Task Group, headed by Al Harrison (Costner). He has been charged with the monumental task of getting a man into space as quickly as possible, as Russia is already there. She works closely with head engineer, Paul Stafford (Parsons), who resents Katherine joining the all white, all male team.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Katherine Johnson and Taraji Henson, who plays her. 

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Mary Jackson wants to be an engineer. She is reassigned to work with male engineers as they figure out how to protect the space capsule from overheating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Her supervisor encourages Mary to get her engineering degree even though there isn’t a school in Virginia that will allow her to complete the classes she needs. Her only option is to petition the court to allow her to be accepted.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Mary Jackson and Janelle Monáe as her

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

And Dorothy Vaughn is working as the supervisor of West Area Computing, without the official title or the compensation. She has frequent conversations with her supervisor, Vivian (Durst), about being recognized for her work and paid accordingly, to no avail. She is told it just is what it is. Dorothy recognizes the threat that the newly installed IBM computer poses to her future at NASA, as well as to her team of female computers, and sets about learning to program the massive machine by reading a library book and studying the computer at night.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures The real Dorothy Vaughn and Octavia Spencer as her

As these women give their best to NASA, they encounter injustices such as having to use “colored bathrooms”, even when the nearest facility is half a mile away, segregated coffee pots, and constantly being told “women aren’t allowed…”. All the while, the clock is ticking as the date approaches when the first American astronaut is scheduled to orbit Earth.

This was a phenomenal story that kept me engaged and hopeful throughout the movie. I am amazed that I had not heard of Katherine, Mary and Dorothy before the release of this movie. I was a wee girl during these events and grew up with a fascination for the space program.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

It grieves me that these incredible women endured so much discrimination because of the color of their skin and their gender. I realize it wasn’t just these women. Sadly, such injustices was directed toward all people of color. I greatly admired the attitudes presented by these female geniuses at NASA. They abided by the “rules” as best they could, while quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, working to bring about change.

And so Katherine challenged the “no women allowed” rules by appealing to her supervisor, whom she knew to be a fair man. She used the bathroom that was half a mile away until an opportunity arose to explain her long breaks, and then she spoke with searing passion.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Mary spoke up when some thought she should remain quiet. And took her desire to attend a white school, to receive the credits needed to be an engineer, all the way to court. She won that right. Dorothy took it upon herself to step into the future she knew was coming, and learn a new way to compute. She not only prepared herself for what was coming, she secured the future for the other women as well, at last earning the title of supervisor.

I appreciated that at the end of the film, we learn what happened to Katherine, Mary and Dorothy after astronaut John Glenn made his historical orbits around the earth. I cared about these women by then. I wanted to know.

I loved this film. I will watch the final two best picture nominated movies, one of which I have already seen, but I am leaning toward calling Hidden Figures my favorite. I cheered. I teared up. I smiled. This is a powerful film made even more so by being true.

Everyone can learn from Hidden Figures…to be who you are and shine brightly, to allow everyone else to be who they are and shine brilliantly too, to fight against injustice wherever it is found, to see beyond color and gender and perceptions. Hidden Figures is a gem worth uncovering.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures
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Surrender 123: Movie Review: The Big Short

Tonight I watched Best Picture nominated movie number seven of eight, The Big Short, leaving the winner in this Academy Awards category for my final film next week. I deliberately saved tonight’s movie until almost last. Of all the Oscar contenders, I was least interested in this one. I’m a realtor. I’m familiar with the housing market crash of 2008, having experienced the crazy boon before and then seeing the aftermath. I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching a movie that told the bigger story. I was wrong. 

The Big Short stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, and Finn Wittrock. This biographical dark comedy, based on the book by Michael Lewis, was directed by Adam McKay. Rated R for pervasive strong language and brief nudity, the movie has a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes. 

The Big Short was nominated in five categories including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Bale, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won an Oscar. 

Michael Burry (Bale), an eccentric former physician, is socially awkward. However as a Scion Capital hedge fund manager, he has a keen ability to see what others can’t. His scrutiny of thousands of mortgage loans reveals a housing bubble that is about to burst. Burry bets against the continued success of the housing market, meeting with the biggest banks and mortgage holders in the US. The banks are happy to accept his proposal, confident the housing market will never fail. After all, who doesn’t pay their mortgages? 

Jared Vennett (Gosling), with Deutsche Bank, hears of Burry’s plan and shares his beliefs. An errant phone call to the wrong institution connects him with a group of investment partners headed up by Mark Baum (Carell). Baum, who is an idealist disillusioned with the whole financial institution, agrees to join with Vennett. Their combined research further uncovers that most mortgages are overrated by bond agencies, with banks collating subprime loans into AAA packages. 

And lastly, a pair of startup investors working out of their garage reviews a prospectus of Vennett’s and want in on the action. Charlie (Magaro) and Jamie (Wittrock) aren’t big enough players on their own, so they enlist the financial perspective and aid of former investment banker Ben Rickert (Pitt). 

These three groups of investors work from the premise that the big banks are stupid and don’t see the impending collapse of the housing market. As the impossible begins to happen and the market shifts, these men discover how deep mortgage deception goes and how large the negative impact will be. Not only will millions lose jobs and homes when the housing bubble bursts, the economy of the world will be affected.

This was a fascinating movie to watch. I thought I wouldn’t like it because being a realtor I know what the crash of the housing market did. However, precisely because I’m in real estate, this true story had a great impact on me. I found myself exclaiming to the tv screen, as new information was revealed, as the depths of fraud and greed and deceit were uncovered. I can’t lie. Watching this movie made my heart race, in an agonizing way. 

The film was extremely well done, with outstanding performances, especially by Bale and Carell. The tone was quirky, and so were the characters based on real people. I liked how the technical jargon and concepts were humorously explained using well known celebrities who taught by way of concrete examples.

The Big Short amazed me, making me laugh, grimace, cheer and even tear up. I’d like to watch the movie again, to gain an even deeper  understanding of what happened in 2006-2008 in the housing industry. 

There’s a quote that appears on the screen that says, “The truth is like poetry. And most people f…ing hate poetry.”  The Big Short holds up the light of truth and uncovers the mess that deception tried to hide. At the end of the movie, more truths appear as words scroll across the screen. Recent truths. I’m carefully pondering those words, very much impacted by this great film. 

Journey 110: Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdman poster

I wanted to save this movie until last, watching the Best Picture nominated films, since it won. I’d rather see the others so as to have a body of work to compare the winner to. However, with the final two films not scheduled for release until next month, I picked Birdman up to watch anyway.

Birdman stars Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. This dark comedy/drama was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu from the screenplay he helped to write. It is rated R for language, brief sexuality and brief violence and has a run time of 1 hour and 59 minutes. Birdman was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, and won in 4 categories, including Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director for Inarritu and Best Picture.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is an aging actor, best known for his role 20 years ago as super hero Birdman in a series of films. Determined to break from that stereotype and be known as a true artist, Riggan writes, directs, produces and stars in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. His venture is fraught with mishaps and teeters constantly on the brink of failure. He fires one inept actor, replacing him with crowd pleasing but unpredictable and hard to work with, Mike Shiner (Norton). Riggan’s leading lady, Lesley (Watts) is a wanna be Broadway star but is untried. His girlfriend and play co-star, Laura (Riseborough) just wants to have a child while his best friend and attorney, Jake (Galifianakis) feels he is the only person grounded in reality and keeping the play afloat.

On the homefront, Riggan’s daughter Sam (Stone), who is working as his assistant, is fresh out of rehab and confronting life challenges, while his ex-wife Sylvia (Ryan) pops in and out of the St. James Theater, checking on Riggan and their daughter. Mike is as explosive to work with as his reputation suggests, money is always an issue, and the previews can’t seem to go without at least one minor hitch or major disaster. The most well known critic in New York City despises Riggan, seeing him as a celebrity rather than a true actor. She threatens to write a review that will destroy his play. Riggan’s own daughter seems to support the critic’s view of him. She blasts him for being out of touch with the world, with reality, and what’s important and relevant to people.

In the midst of all this swirling chaos, which is sometimes dark, sometimes humorous and most of the time, gritty, are Riggan’s intense battles with himself. His alter ego, Birdman, constantly talks to him, in a complaining, derisive voice that seeks to cajole Riggan into returning to his only meaningful role. That battle rages during the entire film, as Riggan desperately tries to rise above that role, wanting to prove to himself as much as others that he is so much more talented than Birdman, that he matters, that he is loved for who he is, really.  At his worst, Riggan loses himself in that other self, displaying signs of telekinesis and exhibiting the ability to fly, without the costume. On the opening night of his play, Riggan gives the performance of his lifetime, leaving a lasting impression on everyone, including his co-stars, his family and the critic.

This was an interesting, if somewhat difficult, film to watch. The director shot the film as one continuous shot, with very few edits, contributing to the film’s grittiness and realism. The narrow maze of corridors in the theater plays as big a role in the movie as the actors do, as much of the film takes place in those shadowy hallways, the bare bulbs overhead highlighting many of the poignant moments in the story.

I felt sadness and compassion for Riggan, and indeed, for all the characters, portraying over the top versions of struggling actors, poking fun at Hollywood and the very roles actors become famous for. I admire film and television stars for following their passions and excelling at what they love doing. This film cracks that rosy perspective a bit for me by showing the stark difficulty in pursuing such passions, in always seeking approval and admiration, in breaking free to be seen as more than the last role. Sylvia, Riggan’s ex-wife, tells him that he is doing what he has always done….confused admiration for love. At the heart of it, this movie is about love, seeking it, anxiously, in all the wrong places, while not being able to find it within. And ego’s attempt to find and take love, or a shallow version of it, wherever it can, at whatever cost. It’s so bleak, yet real, hard to watch, yet the same egoic attempts happen outside the movie.

I haven’t seen Selma or American Sniper yet, but I can see why Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture. I’ll be thinking about this movie for a while, pondering the possibilities in the ambiguous ending. I’ll end this post less so, with the opening words of the film, which are actually on the tombstone of author Raymond Carver, who really did write the short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”:

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself Beloved. To feel myself Beloved on the earth.

birdman scene

Journey 94: The Imitation Game

the imitation game

I declared a movie night for this evening. After a busy week it seemed a good time for some down time. One of my favorite ways to accomplish that is to watch a movie. I chose to relax with The Imitation Game. This was film number five out of eight, nominated for Best Picture.

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, James Northcote, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance. The film was directed by Morten Tyldum and is based on the book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. The biography drama was rated PG-13 for mature themes and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes. The Imitation Game was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Production Design, Best Original Score, Film Editing, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Knightley, Best Actor for Cumberbatch, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won its only Oscar.

Set during WW II, this is the true story of mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). Turing, and his amazing and brilliant team of code-breakers, are in a race against time to decipher the German messages that are sent out during each day through Germany’s communication machine, named Enigma. Considerable unbreakable, the British government assembles the team to do the impossible: break a code that a machine creates…and changes every day. Doing so will not only end the war, it will save millions of lives.

Turing, who is not popular, heads up a team of mathematicians and statisticians that includes Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leech), Peter Hilton (Beard), Jack Good (Northcote) and the only female on the team, Joan Clarke (Knightley). Turing is misunderstood and threatened by the commander in charge of the project, Denniston (Dance), and secretly aided by government official, Stewart Menzies (Strong). Turing has a mind that is beyond brilliant, and yet he lacks social skills and the ability to comprehend sarcasm and subtleties of language. He fights to keep his place on the team as he develops a machine to decode another machine. Given one month to make his machine, nicknamed Christopher, work, the rest of the team at lasts pulls together and supports Turing in his efforts.

Joan not only has a complex intelligence, she also helps Turing understand social interactions and how to make friends. They form a close friendship around their mutual respect for each other and their work to break the Enigma code. Even though Turing confesses to a team member that he is a homosexual, he asks Joan to be his wife, to appease her conventional parents and keep her with him, working on the project.

With time running out, the team breaks the code, using the seemingly insignificant German weather message that goes out every morning at 6:00 am. Using the common words that are in each message, “weather” “heil” and “Hitler” Turing’s machine is able to decipher each day’s messages. The team works closely with Menzies, using statistics to determine which messages to act on, and which messages to ignore. If they had acted on every piece of intelligence that they received, the Germans would have been alerted to the fact that their unbreakable code had, indeed, been broken, and they would have changed their tactics. With a detachment necessary to make such decisions, the team fed vital information to allies and their own government, slowly but surely changing the course of the war. It is estimated that their work shortened the war by at least two years, saving approximately 14 million lives.

In 1951 Turing, now a professor at Cambridge, was arrested for indecency, a charge against homosexuality, which was a crime in the UK at that time, and given the option of imprisonment, or chemical castration. He chose to be injected with drugs rather than imprisonment so that he could continue his work on his machines. Turing died one year later. The film indicates suicide. Research I did after watching the movie suggests his death was caused by accidental cyanide poisoning as Turing worked with an apparatus for electroplating spoons. In 2013 the Queen Elizabeth posthumously granted him a pardon. Alan Turing is today recognized as the father of computer science, his machines the forerunner for the general computer.

This was a beautiful film. I have not watched as many “based on a true story” movies this year, as I did last year, and these stories always inspire me. I am amazed to found out the whole story of how World War II was won. It was a combined effort of countless military people, on the ground, in the air and at sea, commanders and high ranking decision makers….and a little group of six people who excelled at solving impossible puzzles. Their story was kept secret for more than 50 years.

This is, at heart, a story about being who you are, even if who you are is very different from everyone else. Sadly, even those who are different will attack one who lives at the extreme edge of what is considered normal. I strongly dislike injustice and prejudice, of any kind. A movie like The Imitation Game brings me into a raised awareness of the uniqueness of ALL people, no matter how different they appear to be from me. I teared up many times, watching Turing’s internal conflict over struggling to fit in…and not caring whether he did. Cumberbatch and Knightley both gave outstanding performances and deserved their nominations.

The words that became the theme woven throughout the film, repeated at least three times by different characters, were these: “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of…who do the things that no one can imagine.” What a powerful reminder that greatness lies in all of us, and is expressed in many ways. Such souls may crack unbreakable codes… or ring up purchases at a supermarket while offering out of their hearts. All of us have the ability to make lasting contributions to society and change the world, staring with our own small space. Walking away from this movie with the conviction to extend grace and respect to others, all others, while freeing myself to offer out of my own passions and talents, honors the man Alan Turing. I am grateful for his life. I am  imagining what I could not imagine for myself, before.

the imitation game quote

Day 127: 12 Years a Slave


Another late evening as, for my first today, I watched number 8 of 9 Best Picture nominated movies, 12 Years a Slave. I had hoped to save this movie for last, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture. But the movie Her doesn’t release until next Tuesday. Although the timing is great, last movie out, last movie to watch, the late release date meant that tonight, I watched this winner.

12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt. It was directed by Steve McQueen. This epic tale was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Costuming, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, Best Actor for Ejiofor, Best Actress for Nyong’o and Best Picture.  It won Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Picture.  The movie is rated R and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutres.

Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, played by Ejiofor, the movie follows the life of this American born free black man who is kidnapped in 1841, at the age of 32, and sold into slavery. Torn away from his family, friends and life, Northup, who is given the name Platt, is sold or traded among the plantations of northern Louisiana. Treated cruelly by most of his owners, Solomon nevertheless determines that he will do more than survive, he will live. A very intelligent man, raised by free parents and highly educated, Northup struggles to adopt the “be silent and lay low” attitude held by the other slaves, bringing wrath upon himself and often, severe punishment.

He meets and becomes the protector of a young slave woman named Patsey, played by Nyong’o in her film debut. Patsey has drawn the unwelcomed attention of plantation owner Edwin Epps, played by Fassbender. Northup’s care of Patsey enrages Epps and nearly costs him his life. Although he never ceases to think of his wife and family back in New York, and makes several attempts to get a letter back home, asking for help, it isn’t until Northup meets itinerant carpenter Samuel Bass that hope arises. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is from Canada and is anti-slavery. He listens to and believes Northup’s story and ultimately, is his rescuer.  Sending letters on Northup’s behalf, Bass prompts the legal powers in New York to at last secure Northup’s release, allowing him to return home to his wife and now grown family. In 1853 Solomon Northup wrote his memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. For the rest of his life he spoke against slavery and was active in the abolitionist movement.

That’s the story. The movie was gripping and very well acted, especially by Chiwetel Ojiofor, whose performance was powerful and gut-wrenching, at the same time. And although I haven’t seen the last movie, Her, for comparison, I can see why 12 Years a Slave won for Best Picture. How can anyone watch this film and not be affected? All that being said, this was a very difficult movie for me to watch. I cannot stand injustice. I cannot understand how one human being can treat another human being in such horrific ways. From his kidnapping until he secured his freedom, I watched Solomon’s story with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Northup was a good man, a talented musician, a compassionate friend. Having spoken this week about living as our shimmering self, rather than hiding behind false selves, I noticed how Northup, in spite of his attempts to disappear behind a blank expression and unassuming demeanor, couldn’t help but shine. His magnificent self would rise, a true testament to human dignity, courage and perseverance. He did do more than survive, he lived. He lived to become a free man once more and emptied himself in fighting for the freedom of all people.

I was deeply impacted by this movie. And lest I point a finger at another and cry “injustice” and “prejudice”, I examined my own heart and thoughts. To see anyone else as “other”, whether because of skin color, gender, age, accomplishments, ability or for any reason, is to isolate myself and label someone else. To grow and learn from this film is to glance inward to abolish any critical spirit or thought that I am more deserving than anyone else or that anyone is less than I am. We are One is more than a sentiment to me, it is my belief. To love myself is to love another. We are the same.

Day 103: Nebraska


I decided this week to move Best Picture nominated movie night from Monday night to Sunday evening. I’ve struggled the last few weeks to finish work, watch the movie and get the blog posted before midnight! Last week, it was way past that before I got the blog up and even later when I crawled into bed. Sunday evening works better! And tonight, I finally made it back to the movie Nebraska, number five out of nine nominated movies.

Nebraska stars Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach and was directed by Alexander Payne.  It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Dern, Best Supporting Actress for Squibb, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. Bruce Dern won an Oscar for his portrayal of Woody Grant. The film is rated R and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

With the threat of severe weather this afternoon, I hoped electricity would stay on and I’d be able to watch this movie that I first attempted to watch March 24. I was beginning to wonder if I wasn’t supposed to see this movie! I’m very glad I did. Shot in black and white and using a cast mostly made up of little known actors, this film is called a comedy drama road movie. I found Nebraska to be a poignant, touching look at family relationships in the Midwest.

Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is a tired, aging man who never has been known for saying much. He receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail stating he has won a million dollars. He just needs to show his winning number to claim his prize. Woody refuses to trust the postal system with a million dollars, and when no one in his family will drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize, he sets off on foot. Several times. Kate, his sharp tongued wife of many years, berates him for foolishly believing he’s won a million dollars and threatens to have him put into a nursing home. Played by June Squibb, Kate is a woman seemingly at the end of her patience with her often confused, taciturn husband who finds solace in alcohol.

Woody’s son David, played by Will Forte, offers to drive his father to Nebraska. He doesn’t believe his father has won a prize either, but hopes to use the road trip as an opportunity to spend time with his father and ease his confusion. When a fall during the trip sidelines Woody for a couple of days, the pair spends the weekend in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown. He still has brothers and old friends living in this tiny town. And David begins to learn who his father really is from local townspeople, friends and foes, and an old flame.

I expected this to be a sad film, especially with it being shot in black and white. The simplicity of that choice heightened the starkness of Woody’s life, the quiet pain in his eyes. The character actors and extras in the film came across as ordinary people right off the streets of Smalltown, USA. I could almost believe I was watching a home movie at times, of the Grant family. When Kate rants at her son about the craziness of his father’s belief that he’s won money, and asks why, David’s answer touches the heart of the movie. “He just needs something to live for.” It becomes apparent, in this movie, that that statement is true for each character. They’re all caught in one small story after another, searching for something, anything, to live for.

David comes to see his father differently. And that changes the way he feels about his dad. I found myself hoping, as the pair finally arrives in Lincoln, Nebraska, that Woody really did win that million dollars. He’s been ridiculed and subjected to greed from his immediate and extended family, and most of the tired residents of his hometown. And he’s revealed to his son the real reason he wants the million dollars: he wants to be able to replace an air compressor that was stolen from him years ago and he wants a new truck….something nice to leave to his two sons when he dies.

I won’t tell you whether he won or not. I will tell you, the love of a son for his father overcomes all the trials, all the heartaches of the trip. When Woody drives his new truck slowly, and with quiet dignity, down the main street of Hawthorne, for all the town folk to see, I smiled, through tears, along with David. Nebraska isn’t just a sad movie, it is a triumph. And it isn’t just about a road trip to claim a prize. It’s about going home, and going within, and finding something larger to believe in and live for. It’s about love within the family, even an atypical family. Because, what does a normal family look like anyway?