Very few movies the last 40 years have been shot in black & white, but I love just about all of them. The Last Picture Show. Raging Bull. The Elephant Man. Ed Wood. Manhattan. Pi. The Man Who Wasn’t There. The only stinker I can think of is The Good German. As a kid old black and white movies or reruns were prevalent enough that they just seemed old fashioned, now they’re nowhere to be found so I can appreciate that they transport us to another world. One of long shadows and no color.
So before I saw Alexander’s Payne’s new black and white movie Nebraska I was partial to liking it. I’m a fan of the director’s previous movies from Sideways to About Schmidt. Each is an anthropological travelogue that some might consider cruel. He features the depressed, the lonely, the failures finding fulfillment by realizing the people around them are worse off.
Nebraska is no different. It features Bruce Dern as an aging man with dementia who wants to get to Nebraska to turn in one of those Publishing Clearing House letters that say he won a million dollars. Everyone knows this is another sign of his losing his mind. But his good natured son decides to take his Dad on the fool’s errand thinking it might give him something to live for.
This movie is slow and your liking it will depend on your comfort factor of laughing at slack jawed idiots with low IQs. Perhaps in the middle of America there are people with as little depth or complexity as the characters featured in Nebraska. The simple minded cretins who only find interest in the world if they can find financial gain of this movie might offend the wholesome and the pure. After all there are those that found Sideways a despicable portrait of alcoholics. I found that to be a classic and see Nebraska as a slight notch below it.
Even without the black & white it would be obvious that this story took place in the past as no one has a cell phone. It probably takes place in 2002, but it delves further into the past of Bruce Dern and what he can remember. Times were always tough and people were always cruel and if you can’t find the humor to laugh at it, you’re due a miserable existence.