A beautiful, dark family portrait

“Nebraska” paints a dark portrait of a dysfunctional family struggling to learn the importance of selflessness and love.



Tyler Davis, Writer

Returning home always stirs up mixed emotions. Encountering old friends and family members, those whom we have hurt and whom we have been hurt by, can be both comforting and burdensome. This tension is at the heart of director Alexander Payne’s subtly comedic “Nebraska.” The film follows the journey of the alcohol-addled Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) and his son David (Will Forte) on a roadtrip to claim a million dollar prize Woody believes he has won.

In reality, the prize is a scam to trick people into purchasing magazine subscriptions. Despite his family’s insistence of this, Woody remains determined to collect his winnings, even if it means he has to take the 800-mile journey on foot. His son David decides to join him.

The journey takes the pair to Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody soon becomes a local celebrity due to his rumoured new wealth. Family and friends come out of the woodwork, bringing up decades old debts they claim Woody owes them.

The film’s black and white aesthetic only adds to the bleakness of Woody’s life. It captures the recession-scarred American midwest with opaque landscapes where time seems to stand still. While much of the film has an overwhelming darkness, it also contains some laugh-out-loud moments in the hijinks that Woody and his two sons get into when the rest of the Grant family joins the pair for an impromptu family reunion.

The film ultimately shows the importance of selflessness and love for one’s family. It depicts the relational struggles we all face and the value in investing in the people who really care about us. In the end, the new understanding the Grant family has for one another is far more valuable than the fabled million dollar prize ever could have been.

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