When my life was less complex, I saw more Oscar-buzzed films. This year I watched one Best Film nominee (Gravity) and wondered what was so great about it — apart from a budget that could feed us all for a year. But before throwing in the towel on the Academy Awards I went to see a film about a father losing his memory — and got my nine bucks worth of food for thought.
Other people have told me they didn’t want to see Nebraska because Bruce Dern — who plays the confused father — has portrayed so many jerks on screen. To them, he actually seems as repulsive as his characters. But I went to see the movie because it deals with the slow unraveling of someone who seems to be in the early stages of dementia. He gets lost when he leaves home and he’s deluded about many things — including his chances of collecting the “jackpot” he thinks he’s won. When others reach out to him, he refuses their help and keeps getting into the same trouble over and over. Sound familiar?
Despite this character’s shortcomings — he is mean, drinks like crazy, seems to hate everyone around him — this movie was so much better than 90% of all films because it’s so real. It’s kind of reassuring to watch a movie that is so honest about family relationships and the trials of connecting with someone who seems to live in a different reality.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the story rewards viewers with a deep sense of redemption. The acting is superb and the script is excellent. June Squibb, who plays the beleaguered wife, is hilarious all the way through the film. Every single character demonstrates how difficult it is to salvage love from strained family relationships. They also show us why it’s worth it to strive for that, even when it seems impossible.
I have never been to Nebraska, but I’ve lived in places that seemed just as black and white and bleak — yet full of soulful people. My two hours in the theater reminded me that those places are the ones where the salt of the earth is still being harvested, daily.