The common themes in both of these very well made Alexander Payne films are old age, the superficiality of human (read familial) relations and the ugliness that we have, bereft of options, increasingly come to celebrate as the ordinariness of everyday life. Payne brilliantly succeeds in unraveling the layers that comprise this ordinariness. Having watched these films, I found myself reflecting over the cinematic consequences of such an attempt. I am not sure if Payne intended to turn it sad and sour in the end. Despite being ‘light’ films, they end up leaving a very unpleasant taste. The images that persist are of sagging chins and balding heads, of jammed knees and of smelly underarms and of poor dinner tables and bland soup. The protagonists in both the films- Jack Nicholson as Schmidt and Bruce Dern as Woody deliver excellent performances and in doing so make us look inward into the crevices of our familial and professional lives. No prizes for guessing that we see only make do arrangements all over. What disturbs the most is the dumbness and the stupidity with which one goes about rejecting one permutation of sociality over other equally painful combinations. Be it divorce, moving away from parents or choosing a new lover, one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures. Roaming about the city and the urban neighborhoods in Omaha and Nebraska with these old men- sick of their wives and dim wit children and with a loathing of the treatment the world has meted out to them post retirement, we get to see the meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives. Both the films have a number of characters that do little to repose our faith in the ideals of personal and social responsibility and in virtuous conduct. What guides their behavior is instead selfishness and a go with the flow attitude that is hilarious and yet extremely irritating. Mulroney’s act as the mediocre sales rep specially left me wondering about the trajectories that lives of people like him follow. Not that those of people like me would be any better. Overall, these powerful films leave their mark. They mirror very truthfully what and who we are today and force us to suspend judgment and go back to celebrating once again how ordinary have we all become. Watch them in a series if you haven’t already. They are very ordinarily impressive. Congratulations to Mr. Alexander Payne!
12 thoughts on “About Schmidt and Nebraska”
You have captured the moods wonderfully ! “Meaninglessness of self-imposed obligations that shape the entirety of our lives” – That certainly is not a comfortable thought especially if your life finds itself resonating with it. But isn’t that the entire point – if the film fails to make you introspect then you might as well watch light and mindless movies.
yeah. thats true. thanks for the visit dear!
Times are changing and it’s certainly not a comfortable path that we are headed to. Even as people live longer and longer, hitherto commonly found values, bonds and emotions are vanishing. Those are brief yet powerful vignettes, ones that will surely drive me to watch those movies.
That brings to mind the fact that I have never read much about films on One Grain….Would love to hear what you feel about these films! Waiting….
I nearly was going to watch Nebraska but it looked so bleak I choose not to. Good cast for sure. I’ll watch now.
it is bleak but yes, worth a watch! do let me know when you do!
I will! 🙂
I finally watched it. It was good..thank you for recommending it! I concur with all you said about it. Although bleak Nebraska’s such a wonderfully crafted and acted film I enjoyed it. In a way it’s a tribute to a middle America not unfamiliar to me. Once I drove to an in-laws who lived in a similar place. One of my in-laws challenged me the way twin brothers in the film did for the amount of time it took to drive there. I had to smile when I saw the scene. 🙂
Oh! That is interesting to hear. Thanks for sharing!
I have seen and liked both films, but didn’t realize they were directed by the same person. I also liked your review, especially this phrase: “…one is always face to face with hope and despair in equal measures.”
great to know!
I agree with you, these are great movies, a celebration about the ordinary. I enjoy Alexander Payne as a director.