Nebraska (2013)

 “Well, it looks like somebody got bored doing it. Washington’s the only one with any clothes, and they’re just kind of roughed in. Lincoln doesn’t even have an ear.”

‘Nebraska’, directed by Alexander Payne in 2013, is an American comedy road movie that follows the journey of an elderly man and his son as the travel from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. Bruce Dern plays Woody, a septuagenarian who falls for a mail scan and believes he has won a million dollars. Woody, suffering from dementia, decides to collect his prize in person, and his family, humouring him, follow. They end up in Woody’s hometown where he becomes a minor celebrity, and his old friends and rivals begin to make a move for his newly gained wealth. It’s a melancholic film that presents the inhabitants of the US Midwest as straight-talking eccentrics in a way that treads the tightrope between satire and affectionate parody. The character of Woody, grumpy, intransigent and stubborn, is the centre of the film. He doesn’t change, but as we find out more about him (through the eyes of his son), his grumpiness and stubbornness transform into a kind of strength. Dern’s performance is rightly lauded for its complete commitment to this role, and through Dern, Woody becomes a believable and, ultimately, likeable character. It’s tempting to see elements of Isak Borg from Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’ in Woody, and this influence goes deeper with the Bergman-esque cinematography of ‘Nebraska’. Shot in black and white in a way that emphasises both the sweeping and bleak fields, and the craggy, wind-torn faces of the locals. For all this melancholia though, the film is a comedy, and this is expressed through the clueless passivity of Woody and his domineering, foul-mouthed wife Kate, played by June Squibb. Like ‘Wild Strawberries’, the film ends with a reconciliation between the generations and a similar sense of satisfying catharsis.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a film that is about elderly people in a similar way to ‘Wild Strawberries’ ‘Mid-August Lunch‘ and ‘Tokyo Story’. It’s stark, poignant and very funny.


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