I went to see Nebraska yesterday....well I got there in a round about way. I actually went to see Her but that lasted all of five minutes before I had to exit the theater. Nebraska was just starting so I slipped into the only seat available ...front row..not my favorite but it was better than Her!
Nebraska like other Alexander Payne movies is painful to watch. Painfully slow yes but more than that just painful; yet they all are popular, so what's with the pain? Well Payne ( no pun intended) knows just how to take you into painful reality; he did it in About Schmidt, and Sideways ( which won the Oscar) and now he does it again in Nebraska ( nominated for an Oscar). These are people you know and recognize and too often you see something of yourself in one of them and that is perhaps why it is so painful.
In his latest story a son accompanies his elderly father on what everyone would call a ridiculous road trip to collect a million dollar prize which everyone knows is a scam...everyone except the old man. And that is part of his story; this old man once had a good heart and believed people and was taken advantage of (you get this in remembrances not flashbacks)and now he believes what he reads in the certificate which proclaims he is a million dollar prize winner. He is going to Nebraska come hell or high water and he is going to get his prize.
When he sees he cannot stop his father, a faithful son comes along on the road trip more or less to protect the elderly man and in so doing he learns more about his father in a few days than he has learned in his life time. That is the point; we live with people and we think we know them and we make terrible judgments about them( like the wife and other son do) BUT we really do not know their story and we don't really know them.
Of course this is a road trip where the son learns who his father was and how he became who he is. Of course there is a climatic scene where the father is taken back into his painful past and is mocked by his old arch nemesis and the son stands up for justice. Of course they reach the journey's end and there is no million dollar prize. Of course.
But the best part of the entire movie and so worth the long slow road to get there is the ending. The million dollars wasn't really what the father was after. What he really wanted was to right an old wrong ( stolen compressor), buy a new truck ( the symbol he was still a man), and leave something for his sons. I would guess this is all most men really want ( its a guess because I am not a man)! He confides his three desires to the faithful son...the right person to confide in.
Unlike just about everyone else in the father's life the son does not mock, berate, ridicule or use the old man; he loves him. And the best way to demonstrate his love is by sacrificing himself and giving his father his dignity back. He trades his own car in for the newest truck he can afford putting the title in his fathers's name. He buys a new compressor and loads it up and then lets the aged man drive down the main street of his old home town one more time.
The movie is painful yes but it is also powerful. I have tears now thinking of that scene; why? Because there really isn't a person male or female who cannot be touched by it. Everyone has lost their dignity ( their worth); that comes with a fallen world. And all the self help, self esteem, self improvement, c--p won't give you your dignity back! Dignity must be bestowed; it comes from outside the self.
And I suppose that is what I liked least about the movie in all honesty.I saw too much of myself in the other characters and not in the faithful son. I saw how more often than not I will take away another person's dignity in order to protect my own self interests and it was right there before me, way up close in yes, painful black and white.
This morning I sat down and was reading the Gospel of John but with new eyes. I was seeing it through the lens of Nebraska. There was the Son and what was He doing? ......Bestowing dignity; to a woman caught in adultery, to a blind beggar, to a woman he met by a well, to a young couple on their wedding day, and on it goes. The one faithful Son walked a road bestowing dignity; a road which led right up to a cross where He willingly sacrificed all of His. And maybe , just maybe all He asks of us is to go out tomorrow and just walk a road and whoever we come across try and bestow a little human dignity on them even if it costs us something.