Nebraska directed by Alexander Payne

Thwarting expectations or going against the expected norm for certain conventions can be a really good thing because it can force the viewer to reconsider their previous assumptions. The film then becomes more interesting, exhilarating and more memorable. Also breaking out of normal expectations lays the groundwork to create new conventions and genres in film. -Morgan Jones

Nebraska is about a road trip that a father and son take to Nebraska from Montana to claim 1,000,000.00 of sweepstakes money. Along the way the son learns more about the father’s life and the rest of his extended family. His mom and brother join them after a bit and they continue on together.

This is a classic Hollywood style narration for the most part. There is a plot of sorts; however viewers know that the letter is a ploy so there is no mystery about how that goal will end. Because of this, the theme of family is strongly illuminated. Most of the story is told from a mid-range camera giving objective perspective of the characters. The narration is unrestricted. The ending was satisfying and happy. In a classic Hollywood film, I would’ve expected the final punch to be the death of the old man, but that didn’t happen. It truly ended on a happy note. So, maybe that isn’t the usual Hollywood ending after all. In some ways this is not an classic Hollywood narration.

Days are filled with detail such that they seem to go on forever as we see the son help the dad in and out of the car, and interact with people along the way. So the focus is really on the theme of the family getting together and the experiences the father and son have. Most Hollywood films would quicken the pace a bit. The days may have the pace of an old man. There are POV shots and closeups that let us see more of the son and the father’s psyche; however, our perspective of others is quite objective. It is plot based enough that I was disappointed when they almost decided not to continue to Nebraska.

However, the theme was really about a man dealing with his life regrets in old age and about a son discovering who his father really is. There is another aspect to this film that sway it away from the classic Hollywood narration and that is the focus on character.

I vacillate between thinking this was a character development or character study story. There was no real challenge to overcome such that character develops but the intrinsic nature of the people in the family seem to utterly control their reactions. At the same time, the father comes to terms with the fact that his sweepstakes letter is a phony. And the son decides to give his father kindness that he never received from him growing up. I believe that he does this because of what he learns about his dad along the way.

The film is shot in black and white. Time was dealt with quite normally with very few ellipses if any. The sound was diegetic except for a few places where music was used to illicit the emotion of the moment. Neither the use of black and white nor the use of music stood out to me as making any special point. It was smoothly edited in a way that made all of these elements come together in a very comfortable way. In many ways this smoothness mimics the sons treatment of his father, which is kind, tolerant, and comfortable.

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