“Nebraska” exposes the gray areas of life

By Sam Bejak, E23

“Nebraska,” the latest movie directed by Alexander Payne, is a melancholic yet witty film starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. Shot entirely in black and white, the flim is meant to have an antiquated feel despite being set in present time, and the effect works just as Payne intended.

Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a senior citizen who isn’t completely mentally aware of his surroundings. Being tricked into believing he won $1 million from a magazine sweepstakes, which everybody except for Woody recognizes as a sham, he insists on driving from Billings, Mont., all the way down to Lincoln. His son David, Will Forte’s character, reluctantly agrees to drive his father all the way down to Nebraska despite his objecting mother and older brother.

The heart and soul of the movie comes from Woody and David’s journey down to Lincoln, which includes a lengthy stop in his hometown of Hawthorne, Neb. While “Nebraska” is not an overtly sad movie, it engenders a distinct sense of sympathy from the viewer toward Woody Grant, who as the movie goes on is shown to be not nearly as distant as he initially appears. When word spreads in Hawthorne that Woody is a “millionaire,” he becomes an instant celebrity, much to the chagrin of the rest of his immediate family.

The emotional centerpiece of the movie comes from the interactions Woody has with his extended family and friends during his stay in Hawthorne. While they initially are congratulatory, one by one people start haggling the Grants for a piece of his winnings, all of them claiming that they are owed. “Nebraska” is at its core a bitter movie but it contains two incredibly heartwarming moments, one of them being when Woody’s wife emerges from her mold as a selfish spouse to stop Woody’s relatives from taking advantage of him in a fiery display of empathy.

“Nebraska” is one of the most brilliantly written movies to be released in recent years, mostly due to its subtlety. The underlying message is “life is cruel,” and while it is never overtly expressed there are hardly any happy moments in the film. Time and time again the people who should care the most about Woody try to take advantage of him, and if it weren’t for his wife and two sons he would be utterly lost.