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Entries in Annie Proulx (1)
In “The Shipping News” , Kevin Spacey plays Quoyle, a long-time loser with a complicated family history who unexpectedly returns to Newfoundland as a desperate act of self-preservation for himself and his family. The ties that bind are a deep mystery, deeper than the wild blue ocean that itself plays a role in the film.
Along the way, Quoyle meets a wonderful array of “colourful characters” that includes Judi Dench playing his convoluted Aunt Agnis, Gordon Pinsent as his unanticipated mentor, Scott Glenn as his second-sighted boss, and Cate Blanchett as his predatory mate. As he sets about making a new life for himself in rural Newfoundland, Quoyle discovers a new set of interests that he never anticipated. He tries his hand at journalism for the local paper. He goes out on the water in his own boat. He catches up with his daughter’s daycare owner, Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore), and finds out that she’s even more interesting than her name suggests. Quoyle isn’t especially good at any of these things, but he at least gives it a try, and that’s what it’s all about at this stage of his rather stagnated existence.
I can’t tell you that the local accents in this film are wonderfully accurate. (They’re not). I can’t say whether very many people still use outhouses in Newfoundland or whether anyone has dragged his house across the ice from the outer islands lately. I can’t really recommend the foul tasting Seal Flipper Pie referred to in the film. (I’ve never had the pleasure.) I don’t know if it’s true that every other inhabitant on the island has run into a moose on the road in winter or had a relative drowned at sea. I don’t know about the second-sight that some claim to have or whether tying mysterious string knots will protect the family or expose them to some terrible other-worldly curse. I’ve never heard of wakes that really wake the dead, but I would not be totally taken aback to see a house chained to the ground for fear of it blowing away in a place like Newfoundland. What I do know is that all the displaced Newfoundlanders I’ve ever met were friendly folk with hearty appetites for this life and the next. I trust that the scenery is every bit as dramatic as shown in this film and that the weather is every bit as bad (when it is bad).
It’s enough to make one want to run off to Newfoundland (at least for a visit . . . at least for a visit in the summertime.) So much in this film is only half remembered and half spoken. It makes you long for more. I think that this is perhaps one of the primary virtues of the film. It is as evocative as its hauntingly beautiful musical score. (See the video below.) Maybe the film does not deliver on all levels, but I think it has at least this going for it. It opens a window that hints at the “something more” that you can’t quite see from the vantage point of the movie itself. Perhaps the something more is the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Annie Proulx from which the film is derived. Supposedly, the novel is a much better work than the film rendition. Perhaps I should read it some time. Perhaps that would be a more realistic venture than running off to Newfoundland in mid-January on a sight-seeing jaunt.
See the TVOntario Interviews for The Shipping News(2001): Life Anew. It looks at second chances and issues of renewal through discussions with actors, directors and screenwriters.
See the trailer for "The Shipping News" (2001)
Hear part of the magical movie score by Christopher Young.