The Shipping News
starring Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Cate Blanchett and Pete Postlethwaite
written by Robert Nelson Jacobs
directed by Lasse Hallström
This has been a highly acclaimed movie, based on the novel by E. Annie Proulx. The fantastic scenery of Canada’s Newfoundland Province (the movie was shot in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in Canada’s eastern maritime district) has been much fêted. I suppose it is wonderful scenery, but the movie made me feel cold with its constant images of fog, cold, North Atlantic waters, and sweater-wearing people. (It is true that in the Spring time from Newfoundland’s capital city St. John’s, a person can see icebergs floating by in the ocean out beyond the harbor.) In Canada, Newfoundland is the place that people leave in favor of work and life in the wealthier and more populous Toronto, or points farther west. Newfoundland - larger than Irelandbut with only half-a-million residents - is a natural resource-based economy. Everything there revolves around fishing and oil. Unemployment is chronically high. Newfoundland, by the way, is the nearest point in North America to Europe. Although it is a part of Canada it is physically closer to Europe than it is to Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. Interesting.
The film is a powerful story of human drama, about a broken, weak little American man (Quoyle) who finds new life in his ancestral home in the Canadian Atlantic provinces. The fact that Canada and the U.S. are different countries, and that in real life if a person from one wanted to live and work in the other a whole raft of visa applications would have to be made and approved is completely ignored. In the movie it seems like the easiest thing imaginable to just pick up and move, as if there was no international border involved. I felt insulted by that.
Judi Dench, a long-lost aunt, shows up at Quoyle’s door and invites him back to Newfoundland. It is both an escape as well as a return to the fundamentals of family and personal identity. The ragged, craggy, spectacular Newfoundland coastline is probably some metaphor for the human condition, the nature of our human lives, or at least the lives of the main characters. As it turns out, Quoyle’s family history in Newfoundlandis just as hacked-to-pieces as his life was back in the States, with dark secrets that he slowly uncovers.
Quoyle’relocates to one of Newfoundland’soutports - isolated fishing towns that dot the island’s coast. They have no roads to connect them to major population centers like the capital, St. John’s, and all transportation is by the sea. The sea is the entire life of these communities. He lands a job as a journalist with the local paper, The Gammy Bird, reporting on the comings-and-goings of ships form the local harbor. In other words, his job is to report the shipping news.
The town is peopled with a cat of oddball characters. Quoyle is thrown into a life that he never imagined before. He falls in love. The human drama plays itself out and a new healthy and wholesome equilibrium is reached. Such are the lessons of great human dramas. See this movie and you will enjoy it.