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It’s A Mad World

January 19, 2014

Two of the best films of the year begin with a deception. (12 Years A Slave and Nebraska)

Two of the best performances of the year involve protagonists who are deceived.

Two confidence men posing as artists dupe Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, then sell him downriver into slavery.

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a vulnerable old man who receives a sweepstakes letter from a magazine clearing house in Lincoln, Nebraska. He thinks he’s won the sweepstakes, when the corporate folks in Lincoln are actually just trawling old folks for magazine subscriptions.

Solomon and Woody’s lives abruptly change. Their painful disillusionment bears witness as they experience further hardship and pain.

Woody served his country in Korea. There’s a nagging feeling something happened to Woody while serving. Once home, he marries, even as he sinks deeper into alcoholism and isolation. Woody does manage to raise a family as well as help friends and family when they come asking for help. You see, Woody has always been a soft touch. His son Dave (Will Forte) reveals such in conversation with the receptionist at the clearing house in Lincoln; Woody always believed what people told him.

Woody and his wife do manage to move away from their family, relocating to Montana. Telling.

Quiet disappointment takes its toll on Woody as he ages, until he receives that sweepstakes letter from the magazine clearing house. Redemption due to an unexpected windfall seems within his grasp. But deeper, more complex emotional secrets gnaw at Woody.

Solomon Northup learns quickly just how tenuous his “freedom” is. Paul Giamatti’s slave trader, Freeman, frames Solomon’s “nightmare” sharply and succinctly. Freeman shamelessly proclaims that his compassion spans the width of a coin as he decides the fate of a slave family, a mother and her two children.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s plantation owner, Ford, supports the oppressive institution of slavery even though he seemingly knows better. His moral weakness sustains the system. Ford sells Solomon to Michael Fassbender’s Epps, the very heart of darkness residing at the end of the river.

Both films trade in subtly and irony, depicting stories pulled from the shadow side of our nation’s history.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. — Terence


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  1. Lev permalink

    Two of my favorite films the year but favorite was TheDallas Buyers Club.


    • Hey Lev. I think McConaughey and Jared Leto will probably score Oscars. As for the picture itself…there is a difference of opinion. Thanks very much for your comment


  2. Anonymous permalink

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