On a recent movie night, my husband and I chose to watch the movie Nebraska, mostly because I’m a fan of its director, Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, The Descendants, Election). Payne takes what initially seem like mundane events and flat mid-western landscapes and turns them into engaging human stories set against an artistic, cinematic backdrop of huge, gorgeous skies.
In Nebraska, David (Will Forte) loses patience with his elderly father, Woody, (Bruce Dern) and his wanderings. Forbidden from driving, Woody fixates on going to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his “1 million dollar prize winnings,” and decides to walk to Lincoln from his home in Billings, Montana. Unable to persuade his dad that the “prize” letter is just a scam to sell magazines, David decides to appease his father and drive him to Lincoln.
The small town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody grew up and David visited as a small child, is on the way, so David plans to stop off and have a little family reunion with the aunts, uncles and cousins. He even convinces his mom and brother to meet him there, despite their resistance to the Lincoln trip. Their reaction to Woody’s encroaching confusion is to advocate putting him in a “home.”
Once arriving in Hawthorne, David encounters the stark reality of half a dozen taciturn TV-watching uncles and two annoyingly single-minded adult cousins, who still live at home with their parents. Woody lets it slip that he’s a “millionaire” and the story ensues with everyone trying to get a piece of the supposed winnings.
In his attempts to set the story straight, David is flabbergasted by what he learns about his father and his family. From corner bars, old girlfriends, newspaper morgues, family homesteads, and the inevitable trip to the cemetery, David discovers the details that reveal more of his father than the non-communicative alcoholic man he grew up with.
David’s experiences echo those that many genealogists have. We stumble upon a family story, almost accidentally, that ignites our interest in our family history. What appears to be a flat landscape suddenly explodes into a three-dimensional view of family drama and connections to historical events.
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I enjoyed watching Nebraska. I recommend the movie for its great acting, cinematography, and down-to-earth, yet touching, story. The film was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globe awards in several categories including acting, directing and cinematography. Nebraska won the 2014 AFI (American Film Institute) award for Best Picture. The AFI wrote a lovely description of the film that you can see on IMDB.com under Nebraska’s Awards section.
Currently, the movie Nebraska is available via Amazon Prime Instant Video, which means it’s free to watch if you are an Amazon Prime Member. You can try out Amazon Prime for 30 days for free to see if you think it’s worth it.