Saw Nebraska tonight, at the Opera Plaza, a popcorn littered theater that looks like the decrepit homestead we encounter in this film, and seating that feels like United economy. The environment was appropriate for the run-down black and white setting of this film. The characters traverse three states of wintery, bleak landscape, populated by unemployed, retired, angry, and hard depressives. They cling stubbornly to failing communities like musk thistles.
The opposite of depression, they say, is not happiness, but vitality. These folks are depressed, verging on catatonic; except for Woody’s wife, whose energetic hectoring comes across as down-right mean. But it’s a heartwarming tale. And funny. Beautiful to look at with its lonely, wide open scenery. The soundtrack is called on to carry whole chunks of the contemplative action on its back. Here is Timothy Monger’s spot on description of Mark Orton's sountrack:
At times haunting and quirky, his sparse, percussive, acoustic guitar and fiddle score is a perfect match for the film both in tone and geography. Peppered with accordion, trumpet, bass, harmonica, and a variety of other emotively lonesome instruments, the music rolls by like the heartland's wide-open landscape, complementing the film's austere cinematography and enhancing its wit and emotion. It's appropriately wistful, haunting, playful, and decidedly uncluttered.
The usual arc of a film dealing with such victims of a failing economy is to start out innocently enough and then descend into miserable depths as the story unfolds. Think of Winter's Bone, for example. Here, after sketching a bleak landscape, all the foreshadowing is of happy developments. As the story unfolds, there is adventure, warmth, human contact. By the middle of the film there are several laugh out loud moments. Alcoholic, withdrawn, depressed, forgetful, and unable-to-drive Woody and his younger son embark on a road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect the old man’s $1,000,0000 “You may already be a winner” prize. Something akin to caring, love, and insight emerges between the two, and by the time the mother and older son join them, they embark on a madcap caper as a family. The musk thistles are in full bloom, with some vitality, and not so weedy after all.