Sunday, January 28, 2018


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

I grew up in an Italian neighborhood that had its share of gangsters, and there was a period of violence when some killings occurred. But, it was kindergarten compared to what happens in this 1990 film directed by Martin Scorsese. Here, we have a depiction of men who defy society’s rules by establishing their own subculture, with its own guidelines (which are also violated) so as to indulge their selfish urges. Even though on the surface this movie is anything but subtle, there are lines of dialogue and situations that carry meaning that can easily be missed amid the foul language and violence.
Scorsese decided to depart from the chronological order in Nicholas Pileggi’s book, on which the film is based, starting later in the story, backtracking, and then moving forward. This process grabs the interest of the audience by beginning with an action sequence and instilling the desire to know more of the tale that led up to the opening events. The credits at the start zip by, reflecting the racing car we are about to see, but also setting the stage for the lifestyles of these men, who live their life in the fast lane on their way to self-indulgence, not caring about the dangers of not obeying the rules, like a speed limit ignoring automobile.
The three men in the car in 1970 are Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), on whose life this motion picture is based, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci, Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor). They hear thumping while driving and realize the sound comes from the trunk of the car. They pull over into the woods, open up the trunk, and inside is a bloody man, who the others thought was dead. Tommy precedes to repeatedly stab the guy, and Jimmy shoots him. It is significant that Henry is not participating in this lethal activity. We then here a voice-over provided by Henry, and he is our primary narrator for the rest of the movie. Filmmakers usually considered using a narrator to be a crutch to tell instead of to show the story, and in films, the primary emphasis is on imagery. But here, Scorsese uses this device well because it links episodic scenes, introduces the visual, and builds on it. Mainly, it puts the audience into the head of Henry. He is our gateway into this world of gangsters, and we see him seduced by it and grow into it. We are made to be complicit in this seduction, the way Alfred Hitchcock draws us into the story by making us voyeurs and identifying with transgressors, realizing we also have the potential to be lawbreakers. But out of this trio of mobsters, we eventually see that he is the only one who has some remnants of compassion for others.

The first words he says are, “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” We hear these words right after the brutal violence in the opening sequence, when he actually shys away from gangster activity. What we eventually learn is that Henry loves the outlaw lifestyle, but not necessarily some of the horror that comes with it. As a teenager in 1955 he observed the gangsters from his family’s apartment window in a neighborhood filled with “nobodies.” Henry says that the gangsters could do whatever they wanted as they came and went at the cab stand across the street. While he is narrating, we hear song lyrics about going “from rags to riches,” which is how young Henry envisioned his life if he could become one of these wiseguys. He gets a job at the cab stand, and his father, a man of Irish descent, who was a legit working man, thought at first it was a good idea. But Henry, thrilled about being able to park Cadillacs at his age, took on more tasks, including helping out in the numbers racket (something that has disappeared since gambling lotteries have become legal). His association with the mobsters brought him recognition, which is especially attractive when one is young. He says the hoods treated him like a grown-up, and, like most kids, he wanted to escape the restrictions that parents and school imposed.

When his father received a letter in the mail that Henry hadn’t been in school for two months, he calls his son a “bum,” and beats Henry, who figures it was worth getting hit once in a while, because everyone has to go through beatings in life sometime, a cynical notion at that young age. Henry says that his dad was always angry because he made lousy wages to feed seven children (a result of the Catholic ban on birth control which facilitated the “propagation of the faith”), including one boy in a wheelchair. Henry sees being a gangster as the way to escape his father’s fate. When he tells his boss at the cab stand how he can’t work there full time anymore, the hoods rough up the mailman saying that any mail for Henry goes to them. For Henry, problem solved, the mobster way, breaking society’s rules by exerting force over others who are weaklings. Henry doesn’t care about getting a formal education, which he sees as just part of the road to a drawn out, loser life.
The gangster boss is Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino). Henry says that Paulie moved slowly, because “he didn’t have to move for anybody.” The action, that is the money and the power, flowed to him. But, to keep control, Paulie had to constantly watch his back, so all incoming and outgoing calls were made at a phone booth, and he only communicated one-on-one to limit what people heard he said or was told to him. We see later in the story how this paranoia can spread and escalate. Paulie’s influence infiltrated the unions and the law enforcement system. Henry says that other gangsters paid Paulie money, called a tribute (a Roman empire term) for protection in their illegal activities. As Henry puts it, Paulie was “the police department for wiseguys.” This short sentence, which combines legality and illegality, sums up how there is a corrupt world existing just below the surface of the appearance of a legitimate one.

We see young Henry becoming more and more a part of this illegitimate life as he blows up cars as a part of this gangster enforcement. However, for his actions, he no longer has to wait in lines at the bakery, nobody parks in his family’s driveway (even though they didn’t even have a car), he started to make more money than most of the adults in his area, and his mother was escorted home when she went outside to shop. He says that all these actions came out of earned “respect,” but they are really out of fear. To gangsters, that is the only way to ensure respect. Good deeds don’t pay off. For Henry, there is no reason why he should lead the straight life which brings economic frustration.

We now see some of that compassion mentioned before that lives deep in Henry. He relates the first time he saw someone who had been shot. He is outside the cab stand when a man, his arm bleeding, stumbles by, asking for help. He knows that Paulie would not want someone wounded going into the shop, drawing attention, and linking violence to one of his establishments. But, he still feels sorry for the guy, and grabs a bunch of aprons to wrap around the wound. His boss yells at him, saying that he wasted some good aprons. Caring about those outside of the gangster family and showing vulnerability are signs of weakness in a wiseguy. Henry is told that he needs to toughen up.
Henry meets Jimmy, who has a hardened reputation going back to age eleven, and who killed for the mob at age sixteen. He is now one of the most feared wiseguys. Again, a simple sentence reveals the upside-down world in which Henry has entered when he says that Jimmy would root “for the bad guys in movies.” Jimmy had no feelings about killing people, and saw it only as part of doing “business” (we heard this before in The Godfather). But, what excites Jimmy is stealing. The act of taking from others, depriving others for his own gratification, is what excites this man. Henry said Jimmy would hijack anything. He would spread money around everywhere, not to be generous, but to stimulate the greed gland as a means to upend the social contract of abiding by the laws. He would bribe truckers, policemen (supposed enforcers of legality), even crossing guards (guardians of children), subverting the social order in order to acquire his stolen goods.
The final line of this criminal triangle is drawn when Jimmy introduces Henry to Tommy, who, also as a youth, helps Henry sell stolen cigarettes. The police catch and arrest Henry for this illegal act. Henry thinks that Jimmy will be angry at him for getting pinched, but Jimmy says everybody gets arrested in their community. He is proud of Henry for not betraying him. Because their secret society operates within an outside world that at least espouses legality, Jimmy announces the two rules the gangsters must live by: “never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.” Of course these two rules are the same, which makes it sound funny. But it shows the emphasis crooks place on secrecy, and is a foreshadowing of what lies ahead for Henry. Instead of a Catholic confirmation, or a Jewish Bar Mitzvah, the gangsters see getting arrested for the first time as a rite of passage, and celebrate Henry’s initiation with a party. Here again is another example of this alternate criminal reality existing side-by-side with the legitimate one.
It is 1963, and Henry is an adult now and an established member of the gangster world. He says that their version of the legal Citibank, which ordinary people use to withdraw hard-earned money, is stealing goods and cash from the airport. They would either bribe their way into getting information or cooperation, or Paulie, who controlled unions, would threaten businesses with strikes if they didn’t play along. In one scene, Scorsese makes the audience a member of the crime family by having the camera wind through a club full of gangsters like an individual, as the various wiseguys address their greeting to the lens. Henry again heaps scorn on the civilians who were “suckers,” who rode the subways every day to their “shitty jobs” for “lousy paychecks,” worrying about paying their bills. Henry says these people “were dead,” like zombies, whereas the gangsters felt alive in their hedonism. What separates the “suckers” from the wiseguys, according to Henry? He says having the “balls” to risk breaking society’s burdensome and unfair restrictions. Perhaps that is why Americans, who always value Wild West individuality, have always had a romantic desire to vicariously live the life of the outlaw in the movies.
Tommy, now also an adult, reflects old western lawlessness. He likes to call people “varmints,” and says at one point, wielding his gun, that he is the Oklahoma Kid, the title of a movie western that has James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in it, two actors, known for playing gangsters, portraying cowboys in that movie. Even Paulie calls Tommy a “cowboy.” There is the famous scene in which he tells a funny story at the restaurant, and then flips on Henry, going from congenial to seemingly menacing by questioning if Henry sees him as only a buffoon. It is only a pretend intimidation, and Henry finally catches on. Tommy, realizing he scared Henry for a while, jokingly says, “I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning.” This statement is another bit of foreshadowing. Tommy is always being funny, but his surface humor reveals his dangerous personality. His funny stories are full of violence, as the one he tells here, where he talks about getting beaten up during an interrogation (which also connects him to the violence he shares with cops, and which is part of the same culture). His violent, anti-social nature erupts when he bashes the eatery’s owner over the head with a bottle for having the audacity to ask Tommy to pay up on his escalating tab. He smashes other objects, and frightens the waiter, who was afraid to bring the bill, and calls the man a “moron.” Tommy erupts with anger and foul language often, insulting those who get in his sociopathic way. The others at his table just laugh, showing their scorn for those they can scare, and their disrespect for a rule which says they must pay for what they have ordered.

The owner of the restaurant wants Paulie to become a partner so as to curtail Tommy’s behavior. Henry uses this plea as a way for Paulie to make money. The boss makes no investment, and the owner must pay him a regular fee for his “protection.” Paulie controls Tommy and deals with the unions. But, Paulie demands his money no matter the number of paying customers at any given time. Paulie’s men just take the inventory which the owner pays for and then they resell it. It doesn’t matter at what price, it is all profit for Paulie. He and his friends can run up huge tabs for free. When the restaurant must go out of business, Henry and Tommy set it on fire so Paulie can collect the insurance. We have here a good example of how the criminals drain the economic life out of a hard-working, legitimate businessman.
While waiting for the restaurant to burn, Tommy pushes Henry into going on a double date because his girl’s Jewish parents won’t let her go out alone with an Italian. Tommy points out the prejudice in the situation (although he has no room to talk since he spouts bigoted statements often, as he does here about Jewish people always having money), and complains what “is the world coming to?” This statement is comical because anarchistic Tommy has no right to complain about the decayed state of society to which he has contributed. The Jewish girl on the double date is Karen (Lorraine Bracco, later Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist). Scorsese shifts the narration to Karen, and although Henry remains the predominant storyteller, his perspective now alternates with Karen. She is an outsider to the gangster world, and we now get an alternative to the male’s seduction into the outlaw world. Karen is an innocent woman of this time, and her reaction to the first encounter with Henry’s rude, gangster-selfish attitude is one of being hurt by his ignoring her for his criminal activities. When he fails to show for the second date, she makes Tommy drive her to confront Henry. Her anger, which she is not afraid to show in public, is attractive to Henry, because the gangster mentality respects someone with guts.
Another noteworthy scene follows when Henry takes Karen to a nightclub. He says they don’t have to wait in line to get in. They enter by way of a back door, and we follow the couple as they walk through the basement where the help works and the kitchen where employees prepare the meals. All along the way, Henry greases palms with cash, which opens the doors for him, which he learned from Jimmy. When they enter the nightclub, the staff treats Henry like a VIP, with a waiter immediately carrying a table and leading the two to a front row seat to enjoy the entertainment. Others seated close by greet Henry, and one man buys the couple drinks. Not only does this impress Karen, it is a symbolic journey showing how Henry has been able to bypass hard labor and rise from a humble beginning to a successful position rapidly.
This obtainment of illegal power and wealth, and the sexual conquests that accompany them, requires the use of violence. One of the colorful characters in the story is Morrie (Chuck Low), who has borrowed money from Jimmy to produce his hysterical wig commercial (he says his hairpieces are hurricane-proof). He hasn’t paid Jimmy the money plus interest, and Jimmy and Henry are there to collect. Henry always tries to negotiate, and is a regular go-between separating Jimmy and Tommy from their hothead natures and others. When Henry’s talking doesn’t work, Jimmy angrily grabs a telephone cord and wraps it around Morrie’s throat, choking him. The phone rings, and Morrie still manages to answer it while being assaulted, and hands it to Henry since the call is for him. Now this of course is funny, and Henry laughs, as we do. But, this scene implicates us as viewers, joining us with people like Tommy, who derive humor from violence. The phone call is from a traumatized Karen who was sexually attacked by her young neighbor. Henry drives Karen home, takes out his gun, and pistol whips the guy viciously. This beating is the first act of violence against another person that we witness Henry committing. If we are honest, we will admit to a bit of satisfaction at wanting Henry to beat up this privileged, elitist, sexual aggressor. But the savagery of the scene then revolts the civilized part of us. Henry’s face is a scary vision of revenge. He gives the bloody gun to Karen to hide. Her narration tells us that she should have nothing to do with Henry after this incident, but she says she couldn’t help being “turned on.” She has been seduced by the power and protection that Henry represents to her. Accepting the pistol and keeping it a secret shows us that she has taken a blood oath, and joined Henry in his life defying the laws of society.
Henry marries Karen, and through her voice, accompanied by sequences of get-togethers with the wives of the other gangsters, trips, and family celebrations, we are told how everything is done together. This extended criminal family tries to insulate itself from the world at large to ensure that no outsider can acquire information that will compromise their way of life. The symbolically incestuous nature of the situation is shown when Paulie introduces Karen to her new Italian family of hoods. It seems that all the men are either called Peter or Paul (ironically named after Catholic saints), and the women are named Marie (Mother Mary?), as are their daughters. This bunch, although declaring independence from society’s regulations, has its own rigid rules to bind all of its members together, making them identify themselves as part of their shared cult of illegality. Once immersed here, Karen says it all seems normal, with their husbands working hard, even taking risks, to make a living and acquiring extras to make life enjoyable. There is an almost throwaway line when Tommy’s girlfriend says that he will kill any man if she even looks at him. Her female friend says something like,”isn’t that great,” as if this violent jealousy (which goes along with selfishness) is perversely admired as the standard for affection.
Henry says if you got out of line, you would get whacked, and that, everybody knew the rules. But the contradiction inherent in trying to regulate men who relish selfish individuality causes problems. The story returns to the to the opening scene, and provides some backstory. Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy are at a bar, and the “made” gangster, Billy Batts (Frank Vincent, another hood on The Sopranos), tries to humiliate Tommy, bringing up his childhood shoeshining days. Tommy leaves, but returns when everyone but Billy and Tommy’s two friends remain. Tommy and Jimmy brutally beat Billy, believing him to be dead, and of course, they finish him off later. “Made” men can do whatever they want, and, at that high level nobody can mess with them, so they are almost exempt from any regulation. To get permission to kill one, the wiseguy has to have done something extreme, and then there has to be a “sit down” conference, and the bosses must grant permission. So what Jimmy and Tommy did was definitely against this special gangster rule. These guys pretend Billy just went missing, but Paulie is pressured later about what happened to Billy. Again Henry is not involved in the attacks, and he later is atypically quiet at Tommy’s mother’s house, where they stop for a shovel to bury Billy. Whereas Jimmy is the typical selfish, cold hood, complaining that the man he has beaten almost to death got blood all over his shoes. A similar extreme version of self-centered thinking is shown when Tommy shoots and kills the bartender Spider (Michael Imperioli, another future Soprano gangster), and all Jimmy and Tommy concern themselves with is the inconvenience of disposing of the body. (Tommy shot Spider once before in the foot over a misunderstanding, and, of course, makes jokes about it, while Henry, like he did when he was young, gets towels to stop the bleeding, again showing his somewhat less aggressive nature).
Also, despite the emphasis on allegiance to family, the men have girlfriends, and specific alternate days are designated to entertain wives and mistresses. When Karen becomes boisterous in her anger when learning about her husband’s infidelities, Paulie, not wanting to draw attention by way of her disturbing the peace, tells Henry he must keep up “appearances,” and go back to his wife. That is a significant word, since it says that what counts is how things look on the surface, a kind of pulling the wool over the eyes of the population at large. It implies that insincerity can be packaged and sold to the public. Paulie also, ironically, says that Henry has to return home, because, as he says translated from the Italian, they are not “animals.” No, animals are not as excessively cruel and selfish as these men.

The crooks pull off a big paying robbery at the airport. Morrie brought the job to Jimmy, along with Henry. But some of the guys involved are showy by spending money, and one of them is sloppy leaving behind a getaway van with fingerprints. Jimmy gets paranoid, which is one of the side effects of this stressful life of always worrying about getting caught. He gets Tommy to kill almost everybody involved, even though Henry tries unsuccessfully to prevent Morrie’s death, again showing his less lethal nature. Henry does get sent up for a stretch in prison when he leans on a guy whose sister happens to work for the FBI, and who testifies against him. In prison, Henry becomes involved secretly, and against Paulie’s permission (again breaking rules) in the illegal drug business. Meanwhile, while acting like they are going to turn Tommy into a “made” man, the gangster bosses actually set him up to be killed for having murdered the “made” Billy Batts. Here is an instance that even the rule-breakers have to enforce some rules.
Henry is also doing coke, and in a tense, frantic day, which mirrors what one feels like under the influence of that drug, Tommy makes up a “to do” list, like all normal people. But on a gangster’s version of this list, along with everyday things like picking up your brother, and preparing a meal, there are items such as selling guns, getting drugs ready for transport, and having the babysitter set up as a mule to carry the shipment. Henry keeps seeing helicopters as he drives, and his paranoia now matches Jimmy’s before, and he feels that he is being followed. He is right. The narcotics squad has been onto him for a while and make an arrest. He is released on bail, but Paulie disowns him, and he and Jimmy think that Henry may strike a deal. When he meets with Jimmy, who wants him to do a job, he knows he won’t come back from it alive. He is told about the job while a tricky camera shot allows the background to zoom in, visually telling us that things are not right here, that the world is out of whack. Henry says that “murderers come with smiles, they come as your friends … and they always seem to come when you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.” Gangsters are deadly fair-weather friends.
Henry makes a deal to expose his fellow gangsters in exchange for going into the Witness Protection Program. At this point we have Henry break the “fourth wall” and he speaks directly to the camera, and thus to us. He misses the old life, where all his selfish needs were met. His life has become what he wanted to escape. Now “there’s no action .. I have to wait around like everyone else … I’m an average nobody … get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

At one point he says that the wise guys were were called “good fellas.” Despite the allure of obtaining immediate gratification of their wants and living a rebellious lifestyle, the harm that they inflicted on others in their immoral, reckless drive to satisfy their self-centered appetites would make it hard to say these “fellas” could be considered “good.”

The next film is Million Dollar Baby.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Bridge On the River Kwai

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Director David Lean was probably the most successful director of epic films that have at their center thoughtful themes about culture clashes. They include Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago (Czarist Russia versus the communist version), and this Best Picture Oscar winner released in 1957. Here we have individuals representing various attitudes of their countries concerning soldiering in the Asian theater of battle during WWII.
The first shot in this movie focuses on a bird flying high above a vast jungle. The freedom of the winged creature and the vastness of the land below contrasts with the confined world of a Japanese prison camp which seems out of place in the realm of nature. Shears (William Holden) has just buried another POW and there are numerous grave marker crosses at the improvised cemetery, which lets us know that there is danger here. Shears has a name which implies that he wants to cut through the bullshit surrounding the wartime agenda of those around him (which is a sort of human jungle). He represents, at least at the beginning, an American emphasis on the individual’s sometimes selfish concern of taking care of number one. He interrupts a cynical eulogy about the recently deceased by saying, “I’ve forgotten who we just buried.” After being reminded of the name of the British soldier, who died not in some glorious battle, but of a disease (beri beri) in a hostile jungle, Shears mockingly says the man’s death was “For the greater good … What did he die for? … May he rest in peace … He found little enough of it when alive.” He ends his tarnished tribute on a discordant note by slamming his shovel against the grave marker. After enduring the harshness of being a prisoner and witnessing so many deaths, Shears can’t see the fruitful forest for the diseased trees.
Like most pragmatic prisoners, he bargains to gain personal privileges. He robbed a corpse of a cigarette lighter and trades it with a guard who will put him on the sick list so he can avoid more hard labor while he plans an escape. The new POWs come marching in to the whistling tune made famous by this film. But, the sound fits in with the theme later expressed by the British and the Japanese that one should be happy at work. In Snow White, the seven dwarfs sing “Whistle While You Work,” which implies that in war, and in this threatening place, the whistling sounds like an escape from reality into a fantasy land. Of course to the British soldiers, led by Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness in a Best Actor Oscar winning performance), their group demonstration of precision music-making shows their unity of purpose and resolve to not be broken of their patriotic spirit (even as the camera zooms in on their falling apart boots as they march). Shears shows his contempt and for the gung-ho, straight-laced display, which he considers self-destructive in this environment, when he says to his fellow prisoner, “We’re going to be a busy pair of gravediggers.” The other POW says that Shears is neither an officer or a gentleman, the opposite of what we have been taught to admire in a soldier (and which turns out to be literally true concerning his rank). But, surface ideals are hard to come by and can seem fraudulent sales pitches amidst the realities of war (as was discussed recently in the post on Gallipoli).

The commander of the POW camp, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), gives the same speech he delivers to all new POW’s, and which Shears mouths the words to. He says their task is to build a bridge over the Kwai River as part of a plan to provide a railroad link to transport troops and supplies between various parts of Burma. It is here that Saito says that they should be happy in their work. The bridge in this story takes on symbolic meaning since it also can pose the question as to whether there is a possibility to make connections among different cultures, even in the presence of hostilities between the various factions. Nicholson’s strict by-the-book position (he literally carries the articles of the Geneva Convention with him) at first indicates the answer is no. He declares to Saito that by the rules the enlisted men must perform labor, but the officers are exempt. But, Saito has his own military set of rules that expect a soldier to commit suicide if he brings dishonor to himself for not having completed his mission. He is just as rigid in his own way as is Nicholson, with harsh rules enforced against those serving under him. We see a man who constantly pulls a rope to fan Saito’s quarters, and a guard who must stay at a designated position in front of those quarters, even though it is where rain water pours off the roof onto the spot where he stands.

When Nicholson talks with Shears we see that the two could not be more different in their approach to soldiering. The colonel says there will be no escape attempts given the chances being slim of surviving the jungle. Besides, his orders were to surrender, and he must follow the rules. Nicholson thinks that he and his men can keep their British Army ways intact in the camp. Shears, of course, tries to open Nicholson’s eyes as to the realities of POW life there. He says that only he and one Aussie soldier have survived out of the group he arrived with. All the others died of disease, snake bites, or by way of Saito’s commands. Shears thinks the odds of survival are better in the jungle, and sticking to Nicholson’s impractical orders is pointless. He asks Nicholson if he intends to “uphold the letter of the law, no matter what it costs?” Nicholson tells Shears that without law, there is no “civilization.” Shears says, “That’s just my point; here, there is no civilization.” Nicholson’s response is, “Then we have the opportunity to introduce it.” Nicholson believes he can transcend the adversities there to maintain his world’s mindset, which, by his desire to impose his idea of civilization on foreign soil, can appear to be imperialistic. Nicholson says that the men must hold onto their self-respect by remembering they are soldiers, commanded by officers (which should not show debasement by being ordered to work); otherwise, they will see themselves as slaves. Shears, again insisting on the reality as he sees it, says that they are slaves here. Shears shows his focus on self-preservation by telling Nicholson’s British doctor, Major Clipton (James Donald, who will play a German POW in The Great Escape), not to fix him up so that he can stay on the sick list.
Saito smacks Nicholson and knocks the copy of the Geneva Convention rules out of Nicholson’s hand. He threatens to shoot the British officers, but Dr. Clipton stops the execution by telling Saito that it would be a scandal if he murdered the men. Saito instead forces Nicholson and his fellow officers to stand out in the hot sun. When they do not capitulate, he places the officers in a detention box, and Nicholson is beaten and put in “the oven,” a small cage. While this action takes place, the British soldiers slow the progress on the bridge by sabotaging the building so that sections fall apart. Saito is a realist. He says rules don’t apply in war, but unlike Shears, he has his orders, and has suspended only those rules that might prevent him from reaching his objective. Saito allows Clipton to try and convince Nichols to give in, since Saito has threatened to close the medical facility, and put the patients to work. Clipton urges Nicolson to relent so that he and the other officers can be released from their small prisons and get medical help. Nicholson says they must not give in. Saito tries to undermine Nicholson’s argument by saying that the officers are lazy and don’t want to take on their share of the labor. Clipton thinks both men are mad, a feeling he reiterates later. Saito starts to change his approach by offering the carrot instead of the stick. He gives the men some time off, and allows them to receive their Red Cross packages. Saito says it is not only the fault of the POWs for the lack of progress on the bridge, it is also due to his incompetent engineer, and so Saito takes over. But, there is still little progress. Saito tries to win Nicholson over by offering him whiskey, cigars, and food, but the British colonel refuses them. Saito is angry, and shows how hard it is to build a figurative bridge between the two men when he lists how different he perceives their respective cultures: “I hate the British! You are defeated but you have no shame. You are stubborn but you have no pride. You endure but you have no courage.”

Eventually, Saito must capitulate. So as not to dishonor himself, he releases Nicholson and says his officers do not have to work because it is the anniversary of Japan’s defeat of the Russians in 1905. So, he is granting amnesty in celebration of that historic event. Nicholson’s men cheer him, since his resistance to being subjugated by the enemy is a triumph. Saito, in private, is the defeated one, now, and he cries.

In the meantime, Shears and two others try to escape, with Shears surviving despite being shot and falling into a river. He makes it to a village just before he is ready to collapse. He recuperates there, and the inhabitants give him a small boat to get back to an Allied base. Again, he is lucky, as he is rescued as his water runs out. He awakes in a hospital in Ceylon. There, while those he left behind in the prison camp must do hard labor, he enjoys the lovely beaches and the affections of a nurse, as he awaits a medical discharge. As opposed to Nicholson, Shears says that he always was “a civilian at heart.” His indulging in selfish individual desires contrasts with those sacrificing their personal needs for bigger endeavors.
However, Nicholson’s larger plans are complicated, and seem contradictory. Saito’s confession that the Japanese engineer was not doing a good job provides Nicholson with what he sees as an opportunity to turn defeat into victory for the principles that make up proper British military behavior. Those ideals will not tolerate sloppy work or malingering with phony illnesses. Nicholson consults with those men who helped him build bridges in India, and they say the Japanese bridge is in the wrong place, and should be placed downstream where it can have a solid foundation. Nicholson tells Clipton that he must keep his troops active and working on the bridge will maintain order and discipline. He also wants the job to be done solely by the British soldiers so that they can show the Japanese how proficient the English are in completing a task. When one of his men says that the trees they will build the bridge with can last six hundred years, Nicholson sees that the building of the bridge will be a monument to future generations who will praise the accomplishment. On the one hand Nicholson’s vision is capable of seeing beyond the current fighting between the nations, but he also loses sight of the war at hand and is driven by patriotic and personal zeal for praiseworthy recognition.

When Nicholson’s team meets with Saito’s, it is Nicholson who is now in command, dictating the plan to build the bridge. As the operation proceeds, Saito becomes a ghost of his former self, looking stunned by the turn of events as he carries out Nicholson’s orders. The Japanese colonel really can’t do anything about this reversal because Nicholson is trying to accomplish what Saito has been ordered to do. Nicholson says he is “not responsible” for losing a month’s time of work because it was Saito who forced his will onto Nicholson and his officers. He uses Saito’s earlier words, because the camp commander said he was “not responsible” for the soldiers’ predicament, since they were ordered by their superiors to surrender. Nicholson does not allow that it was his resistance that also brought about the delay. Nicholson’s British imperialistic ways can be seen in even the smallest actions, as he orders tea while he discusses the building plans. At the camp, Nicholson really has succeeded in defeating his earlier adversary, but, ironically his victory is by actually helping his foe do his job for him. In order to speed up the construction, Nicholson does, ironically, what Saito wanted. He asks his officers to work with the other soldiers, but only if Japanese officers work on the railroad tracks. Under these strange circumstances, the two sides are in a bubble outside the external conflict, actually cooperating with each other. Nicholson also goes into the infirmary and recruits the injured, swaying them with British stiff-upper-lip talk so that they will volunteer to become part of the workforce. Dr. Clipton is upset by what is happening and says sarcastically to Nicholson, “I hope the Japanese appreciate what we are doing for them.”
Back in Ceylon, the British upset Shears’ plans for an early discharge. Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) asks Shears to volunteer to go with Warden as part of a commando group to destroy the bridge being built. It is interesting to note that when going to Warden’s quarters, Shears encounters commandos doing training simulations, and one soldier mistakes Shears for one the opposing participants, and manhandles him. The man says he confused Shears for “the enemy.” This scene echoes what is going on in the building of the bridge where Nicholson no longer seems to know who the enemy really is. In both cases, the narrow focus of wanting to be part of a job well done makes the individual lose sight of the bigger picture. Warden says that Shears will help given his knowledge of the area. Shears, not wanting any part of going back into the jungle and being part of a dangerous mission, says he is not the man for the job. He admits to being a regular enlisted man who happened to escape from a sinking ship with the Commander who later died (Shears up to this point seems to be lucky in escaping his dangerous military situations, and undercuts any praise Warden offers on his escape by emphasizing it was not due to heroic action, again contrasting him with the British outlook on soldiering). Shears assumed the man’s identity because, again looking out for number one, he knew that someone of high rank would get better treatment by the enemy if captured. He also continued the fraud after seeing how officer patients were treated better at the Ceylon hospital. Still trying to work a personal angle, Shears contemplates a psych discharge saying he will argue he assumes other identities because he has mental problems. However, Warden already knows that Shears is not really a Navy Commander. He tells Shears that he is an embarrassment for the Americans, because he should get a medal for his escape from the POW camp, but he is also a fraud. So, the Americans turned him over to the British. As Shears says, the Navy didn’t want to handle “a hot potato.” Shears now realizes he has no choice but to volunteer. Warden makes him a “simulated Major” for the operation, thus continuing Shears’ fraud to get the job done, which, again, takes precedence over other considerations.

Back at the camp, Nicholson can’t understand Clipton’s resistance to the British bridge building plan. Nicholson says that morale is high, discipline has been restored, the men are not abused, and they are eating better than before. Clipton says that it could still appear as collaboration and even treason. Nicholson says it isn’t collaboration because the British are building the bridge alone, which ignores the fact that Nicholson is still providing a means for the Japanese to fight the war. He also makes the argument that as a doctor, Clipton would operate on an enemy soldier to make him better, because that was his job. (Of course what Nicholson doesn’t say is that the doctor would not then arm the man and send him back into battle to shoot more of the doctor’s own soldiers). Nicholson comically says that Clipton may be a good doctor but he “has a lot to learn about the Army.” It doesn’t say much for the military if it operates in this nonsensical way.

Back in Ceylon, Warden, with Shears present, picks out his team. One of the men is Lt. Joyce (Geoffrey Horne). He is Canadian, which sets him apart from the American individualist, Shears, and the British getting-the-job-done-at-any-cost Warden. Joyce says his civilian job and his military one were boring. He wants some excitement, and his character shows the attraction of war as it provides that adrenalin rush. But, when asked by Warden if he could kill someone “in cold blood” with a knife, Joyce allows personal morality to enter into the equation, since he says he isn’t sure because he still feels “killing is a crime.” Warden recognizes that this dilemma has always been a problem in war, but they stick with Joyce, and Warden, employing British understated humor which goes back to Beowulf, tells Joyce he will join them on their “little hike in the jungle.” This way of downplaying danger is consistent with the British stoicism that doesn’t allow room for emotion to interfere with the task at hand. (Nicholson employs the same technique when he asks the camp’s patients if they wouldn’t mind doing a “little light work”). The fact that Shears never used a parachute is not a problem to Warden, since Shears can get in some practice. When there isn’t time for practice, Shears is told he still has a 50-50 chance of survival, so he might as well jump. And in case Shears gets captured, Warden gives him a suicide capsule, called an L-pill, so as not to compromise military operations. Shears does show some admiration for Warden when he learns that he has been captured before by the enemy and is willing to risk his life again.
Their journey is a trying one. Once of the men dies as his parachute goes down among trees. They are plagued by heat, leeches, rains storms, and thick vegetation that they must cut through. Shears, sarcastically, tells the team, which includes women carrying supplies and a local guide, to “be happy in their work,” echoing Saito, and thus showing how both sides try to rationalize away the harsh circumstances. The same point is made when they learn by radio that they must set off their explosives when a VIP Japanese train is crossing over the bridge. The message ends with “have fun,” which refers to the adrenalin rush that Joyce seeks, but also tries to dispel the danger involved. It is ironic that Nicholson has a deadline to meet to finish the bridge, while at the same time soldiers fighting on his side of the war now have a deadline to destroy Nicholson’s creation. Warden’s people encounter some Japanese soldiers, and, in order to not get caught in crossfire, they must use knives. Joyce hesitates in killing one of the enemy. Warden does the job, but chips a bone in his foot. He perseveres though, limping a great distance. However, when he sees himself as an impediment to the mission, he orders the others to leave him behind. He wants no sympathy from Joyce and tells him that he wouldn’t hesitate to leave Joyce behind if the situation was reversed. Shears is angry about the concern for the mission over the welfare of the individual, and tells Joyce that Warden would leave his own mother behind for the sake of the mission. Shears lets loose his contempt for Warden’s rules of war: “You make me sick with your heroics! There’s a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like a plague. Explosives and L-pills - they go together, don’t they? And with you it’s just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, You’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? To die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules - when the only important thing is to live like a human being.” Shears will not allow Warden to follow his rules and be left behind, and says they go on together.
Warden’s team arrives at the completed bridge in daylight and are able to get a good overview of how to set the explosives to destroy the bridge. Again, ironically, this happens as Nicholson places a plaque on the bridge announcing how it was constructed by British soldiers. The team can’t just set timers on the explosives on the bridge and make a clean getaway because they do not know when the train will be crossing, and must be there at the crucial time. Nicholson and Saito walk the bridge together, symbolizing their strange alliance despite being on opposing sides of the conflict. We then get from Nicholson why the bridge means something more to him than just a way to show the British ability to succeed. He says that he has served in the military for twenty-eight years and was hardly at home. It was a good life, but as he is now older, he wonders, “what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men’s careers.” Nicholson is saying that he wanted to make a difference by contributing something concrete that will endure, which is what many people would want. But even if his motivation is pure, he has picked an odd way of achieving his goal. As he is saying these words, he drops his military crop into the water below, as if symbolically showing that, up until now, the Army has failed to make his dream come true. The lost crop seems to wake him up out of his reverie, and he again assumes the stoical look of a British officer.

Shears and Joyce plant the devices at night and hook them up with a wire to an explosive plunger as Nicholson’s men, in contrast, put on a show to celebrate the completion of the bridge. However, in the morning, as if nature itself is resisting man’s violent intrusion into the jungle, or because, as Warden liked to say “there is always something else” that seems to come up when trying to control an uncontrollable universe, the river has dropped, and the wires are exposed. Clifton, despite Nicholson’s speech of the night before about how this British accomplishment will be an inspiration to people in the future, wishes to view the train crossing from a distance, on a hill because he can’t be a part of what is happening. Nicholson, while doing a last inspection, sees the wires, and goes with Saito down to the water level to investigate. As Nicholson pulls up the wire, he yells out for help because he knows the bridge is in danger. Warden, realizing how Nicholson is about to betray the mission, yells out to Joyce to kill Nicholson. Joyce does stab Saito to death, but is shot to death by Japanese soldiers. Shears, now a true part of the team, runs out to try to complete the mission, but is also killed as he tries to reach the the detonator. Warden has fired mortar shells as backup, and Nicholson is hit ironically by “friendly fire.” In this moment where he has been attacked as an enemy of his own people, Nicholson is brought back to the realities of war and realizes his betrayal of his own military forces as he says, “What have I done?” He stumbles and dies, falling on the plunger, destroying the train as it passes over the bridge he was so proud of building.

We see the plaque that was supposed to last for six hundred years floating on the river. The bird that was in the first shot appears again, soaring freely above the men still imprisoned in their world of violence. The last words of the film are uttered by Clifton, which sums up how the existence of war destroys all the best laid plans, if not of mice, but certainly of men: “Madness - Madness.”

The next film is Goodfellas.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Winter's Bone

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

This 2010 film mirrors what Truman Capote wanted to achieve with In Cold Blood, which was to show an underside of America that most citizens don’t know much about, and would rather not see. Director Debra Granik adapted the story for the screen from the novel by Daniel Woodrell, and she presents life in the Ozarks of Missouri as an impoverished, isolated place, whose adult residents become savagely tribal, and drug dependent, to survive.
Yet, the first scene in this movie shows children at play as they jump happily on a backyard trampoline while a lullaby is sung in the background. And as the story unfolds, having babies, despite the lack of financial resources, appears as a source of happiness in a life almost devoid of that attribute, and possibly the only hope for the future for these otherwise sad folks. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, playing a seventeen year old when she was nineteen in her first Oscar-nominated role), visits a class where young pregnant girls learn how to take care of their future children. However, the harshness of the surroundings force the younger population to grow up fast in order to face the adversity around them. Ree must take care of her mentally ill mother and her very young brother, Sonny (Isaiah Stone), and sister, Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Their father, Jessup, who cooks meth, has been absent for a while. It is not an easy task for Ree given the lack of resources. The house is dilapidated, and the children sleep on a couch and a sofa. When Ashlee wants to feed the dog, Ree searches for something out of the refrigerator, smells it to make sure it’s still good, and announces what amounts to all that they can expect out of life when she says, “Better than nothing.”

Ree is a responsible surrogate parent as she teaches her siblings basic mathematics and spelling. She shows them even at an early age, because the surroundings demand learning these grown-up skills, how to use a rifle to hunt and protect themselves, but also how to be careful around the weapons. When Ree shows her brother and sister how to skin a squirrel, Sonny asks about the animal’s organs, “Do we eat these parts?” Ree’s answer is, “Not yet,” a minimalist answer that carries great meaning as to how precarious their world is. Ree must also chop wood so that they can stay warm. There is no reliance on the outside world here, so one must rely on others living there. Ree brings her horse to stay with her neighbor, Sonya (Shelley Waggener), who lives a little higher on the poverty spectrum, for food since the horse has not eaten in days. Sonya brings food over to Ree’s house, and lets Ree use her wood splitter. However, Ree tells Sonny, “Never ask for what oughta be offered.” Among these people, that rule maintains the recipient's pride, since they are not seen as beggars, and places responsibility on the residents to help others; if they have to be asked for what they should offer, they would incur embarrassment.

To make matters much worse, Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) comes by saying Jessup put up the house and the land as collateral for his bail, and if he doesn’t show up for his court date coming up soon, they will have to give up their home. Despite the fact that the law has not found Jessup, we see Ree’s resolve when she convincingly says to the sheriff that she will find her father. When Sonya comes to her house and asks Ree if she’s sure she doesn’t know where her father is, Ree gives her a “how dare you ask that” look as if insulted to think she didn’t tell her the truth. Sonya says then Ree didn’t have anything to tell the sheriff. Ree says she wouldn’t tell the cop anything even if she did know. Sonya’s response is, “Honey, we know that.” This exchange shows the code of silence among the people living there that see the rest of the world as outsiders who only enter their lives to do harm.

At one point we hear the radio in the background which predicts more cold temperatures and freezing rain. The withering weather reflects the dire life the inhabitants must endure, and the hostility of the environment is palpable, so that the title of the film helps one understand how the coldness of the weather and of those living here penetrates to the bone. However, IMDb also says that the title refers to an Appalachian expression that compares a person who is searching for something and will not give up to a dog digging up a “winter’s bone.” Ree is like that dog as she is relentless in trying to find out what happened to her father in order to save her family’s home.
There seems to be more of a bond between the women living in this community than with the males, since the females share the child-rearing experience, and have to contend with the savagery of the men. But, that sisterly help doesn’t always come easily. Sonya delivers, but, as we saw, with a note of uncertainty. Ree goes to her friend and asks for the use of her husband’s truck. He refuses. Ree’s independence can be see in her admonishing her friend when she says, “It’s so sad to hear you say he won’t let you do somethin’ and then you don’t do it.” Ree reminds her that at one time her friend “never used to eat no shit.” Soon after she does secure the truck to help Ree with her search for Jessup.

Even though Ree fears her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), she goes to his house to see if he knows what happened to her father. By the way, many of the names in the story are interesting. Ree’s last name is “Dolly,” which shows a nostalgic yearning for the innocence of youth, when a girl could escape into an imaginative world, playing with her doll. Ree has the nickname of “Sweet Pea,” and she is caring toward her family, but it is also ironic because Ree can be tough as hardwood. “Teardrop” sounds sentimental and sympathetic towards those that suffer. But, Ree’s uncle is one mean fellow. For instance, he tells his wife to shut up and when she keeps talking, he says,”I said shut up already, with my mouth,” implying the next time it will hurt. He also takes an axe to a man’s truck who gives him a hard time when Teardrop questions him about his brother. However, it can refer to how much family suffering he has had to endure, and currently points to what he feels about the loss of his brother.
Teardrop, with a gun in his hand, as if that is a normal thing to have even at a discussion at the kitchen table, warns Ree to not ask about her dad. He grabs her by the hair and the throat to emphasize his point, but then seems to soothe her with his hand as he lets go. In his rough way he is actually trying to protect her. He also voices the feeling that her choices are between the lesser of two evils when he says if she keeps asking questions she’ll become food for the hogs, “or wishin’ you was.” Again we see female support from Teardrop’s wife, Victoria (Cinnamon Schultz), who pleads Ree’s cause to Teardrop. He tells her to give Ree some money and send her on her way. Victoria gives Ree a marijuana cigarette to calm her on her walk, because she knows Ree won’t give up. Drugs are used to make money here but also as a means of self-medication to get through difficult times. It has become a lifestyle, but Ree refuses to take them. Later, Teardrop says to her that she hasn’t developed a taste for them yet, as he snorts some powder, which implies that living there creates the need for it.
Ree goes to the home of Little Arthur (Kevin Breznahan) who has another cutesy name which does not fit his character. He is Ree’s cousin (Ree keeps wanting to now why people who are her “kin” aren’t helping her) who used to cook meth with her father. Here, as everywhere else, the property is run down, with partially wrecked vehicles in the yard along with trash cans, old tires, and other refuse, showing us how the lives of these people are in shambles. In his house, a gun in the corner, always ready to be used, Little Arthur says he doesn’t know where Jessup is. Once again, a woman helps Ree. Little Arthur’s wife, Megan (Casey McClaren) tells Ree to ask Thump Milton (a more appropriately tough name) about her father. Ree confesses that he is one man she does not want to talk to. He is Megan’s grandfather, and she is afraid of him. Fear rules in this place.
Ree goes to to see Thump Milton (Ronnie Hall), but is told by one of the women living on his compound, Merab (Dale Dickey), that he will not see her, despite Ree’s argument that she isn’t looking for “trouble,” that is, she is not going after who might been involved in her dad’s disappearance, and that she and Thump’s people share some “blood.” But Merab says that she should leave because Thump doesn’t want any witnesses. Ree starts to realize that her father is dead, and those involved in his death don’t want any loose ends that could lead to who killed Jessup. While waiting for this information, Ree sees a small statue of a boy and a girl riding down a slide. The inclusion of this object makes one again think about the the loss of youthful innocence. Childhood has a short span in these circumstances, and all that’s left is an artistic resemblance of it.

Ree does go home, but Little Arthur shows up and takes her to a place where a meth lab blew up and where he says Jessup was killed. Ree says she is not stupid because she knew her father was careful and would not make a mistake that would result in an explosion. In addition, there are tall weeds at the site which would mean the explosion took place way before her dad went missing. Ree knows that Little Arthur was sent to give her an explanation for her father being missing which would end her investigation. Little Arthur says he knows how rough it will be for Ree if she loses her home and offers to raise her children. Ree defiantly refuses the offer, seeing it as an insult concerning her ability to take care of her siblings. She does not want to give up her search for Jessup. If she finds proof of his death, then there is no defiance of the order of the court to appear for trial, and her house and property will not be forfeited. Along the way of Ree’s quest we see people playing music and singing. The songs are mournful, with references about “flying away.” They express the sorrow of these people and how they wish for an escape.

Teardrop visits Ree and tells her that the law found Jessup’s car which was burned, but no body was found. Ree sees that evidence is being destroyed which would lead to her father’s killers. Teardrop advises Ree to sell the land and get some money for the timber before it is confiscated. But Ree instead again goes to see Thump Milton. Merab and the other women at the compound beat her as punishment for showing up again (their code does not permit the men to hit her). When Thump and his men arrive, Ree explains the situation to reassure Thump that she is not out for revenge or to expose anyone involved in her father’s death. Teardrop shows up, says his brother went against the ways of his people, and he assures Thump that he will take responsibility for Ree, promising she will not squeal on anyone. On the way home, Teardrop tells Ree that her father couldn’t handle another stretch in jail, and he made a deal with the law to provide information about the drug dealings of those men in his community. Teardrop believes that the sheriff then let it be known that Jessup had talked so he would get the Jessup’s information and not have to make good on the deal with Jessup, knowing Ree’s father would be killed by those he betrayed. Teardrop tells Ree that if she finds out who did kill Jessup that she shouldn’t tell him. Then he would feel compelled to go after the killer, which would probably lead to his death, or as he puts it, he will be “toes up.”
When Ree returns home, Sonya again is the female helper who gives Ree some pain killers to deal with the results of her beating. Ree accepts the drugs now after having experienced how punishing it is to defy the ways of her community. While she recuperates we see a show on the TV depicting the chopping down of trees as Squirrels scatter as their homes are destroyed. The inclusion of this footage points to how the outside world will decimate the home of Ree’s family. She becomes despondent, thinking that she may have to give up her brother and sister to other family members to take care of them. There was talk earlier of her desire to “fly away,” by joining the Army. She now goes to the recruiting office in order to get the $40,000 sign up bonus. But, she is too young to enlist without parental approval, and her mother is incompetent to give consent. The recruiter also tells her she can’t take her family along, so Ree would be abandoning them.
Teardrop comes by again because he feels the need to find his brother’s body. On their drive, the sheriff stops them, but Teardrop knows that there is no reason for being pulled over. He also has a great deal of animosity toward the sheriff because of how he probably assisted in the death of Jessup. Teardrop refuses to exit the vehicle and he makes sure that Sheriff Baskin can see in his truck’s side view mirror that Teardrop has a rifle in his hand. The sheriff backs off and lets them go. This scene stresses that although the ways of Teardrop and others in this place may be threatening, the law and others from outside their way of life can be just as destructive. Teardrop tells Ree that her father loved them very much, which ironically, in this uncivilized pace, made him weak, not wanting to go away from them to serve a long jail term, and this weakness made him susceptible to danger.
Some women from Thump’s place, including Merab, now join the list of other women who help Ree. They take her to where Jessup’s body is. They put a sack over Ree’s head so she can’t reveal where her father lies. That way, Ree can’t ever tell the police, which would lead to an investigation. They go on a boat to where Jessup rests in some shallow water. Merab says Ree must cut off her father’s hands to prove that he is dead (Merab says one hand might imply that Jessup is alive and tried to prove he was dead by cutting off one hand, which shows how violent is the logic in these parts). Ree breaks down and although she can lift up her dad’s hands, she can’t do the cutting. Merab uses a chainsaw, adding to the gruesomeness of the scene, to cut off the hands. Ree brings them to the sheriff, saying someone flung them on her porch. The sheriff doesn’t want Ree to spread it around that he backed down from Teardrop, saying he was just trying not to have a shootout that might harm Ree since she was there. Ree tells him that’s not the way she saw it, not giving him the satisfaction of his lie. She shows her contempt for the man who helped bring about her father’s death by telling him she wouldn’t say anything about him because she didn’t talk about the sheriff, “ever.”
Teardrop pays a visit to Ree’s home, and brings baby chicks for Sonny and Ashlee. This act may seem to show a gentle side of the man, but he probably is being practical, providing a source for future food, either by way of chicken dinners or eggs. He picks at Jessup’s banjo, and remembers fondly how much better his brother could play. Bree offers to give him the instrument, but he says that she should hold it for him. He then says that he knows who killed Jessup. So, his leaving the banjo may mean that he will seek revenge for his brother, which would probably get him killed. Ashlee picks up the banjo and starts strumming it. This action may seem like a sweet tribute to her father, but it also could imply that she is on the same road to disaster as her parent.
Sonny asks Ree if she is going into the Army and leaving them. Ree’s poetic response is, “I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back.” The life here may be exacting, but the love of children makes bearing the burden of family responsibility worthwhile.

The next film is The Bride on the River Kwai.