Little Film, Big Heart

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I have great admiration for the people who work closely with the elderly, either as professionals, volunteers, or simply family members or friends. It takes great patience, humor, patience, affection . . . did I mention patience?

My sister has cheerfully cared for five elderly family members: both our parents, both their spouses, and her own mother-in-law. Of the five, only our mother is still alive. We joke that while I raised children, my sister raised parents. She swears she got the easier task. I know she did not. It takes tremendous fortitude and patience to listen to the same stories and respond to the same concerns day after day.

The film Nebraska takes a close look not only at elderly people but at an elderly town and an elderly way of life. It is filmed in gray in the autumn of the year, emphasizing the graying generation in the autumn of its life. The film is slow, just as its characters are slow. But it is also funny and enlightening and oh-so-true.

Woody Grant (the wonderful Bruce Dern) has received one of those Publishers Clearing House-like sweepstakes certificates telling him that he has “won” a million dollars, and he is determined to get to Lincoln, Nebraska before the deadline to claim his prize, even if it means walking. From Billings, Montana. He sets out several times, only to be turned back by his sons or the sheriff, who simply cannot convince him that the certificate is a marketing ploy. When one person asks if Woody has Alzheimer’s, his son David (Will Forte) replies, “No. He just believes what people tell him.” Missing the irony, the person replies with a patronizing shrug, “That’s too bad.”

Finally David agrees to drive his father to Lincoln, partly to appease him, partly to spend some time with him, but mostly just to shut him up about the sweepstakes money. What he discovers is the father he never knew.

Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, a one-light town where Woody grew up and where most of his friends and family still live. Woody hasn’t been there in 20 years, so all of his brothers get together for Sunday dinner. The scenes with his brothers are a hoot, reminding one of the patience it requires to spend extended time with the elderly. A typical conversation among Woody and his brothers goes something like this:

Woody: You still got that Impala, Verne?
Verne (Dennis McCoig): What?
Woody: You still got that Impala?
Verne: Didn’t have an Impala. Had a Buick.
Woody: You still got that Buick?
Ray (Rance Howard) joins in: It was a ’78, wasn’t it?
Verne: ’79.
Woody: They don’t make cars like that any more. Those cars’ll run forever.
Ray: You still got that car?
Verne: Nope.
Ray: What happened to it?
Verne: Stopped runnin’.

All this time the brothers and cousins are staring slack-jawed at a rerun of The Golden Girls. It’s enough to drive someone nuts. And oh, so true. This was a generation that was taught not to talk about feelings, or politics, or anything that might be considered controversial. So they talk about the weather. And cars.

David warns his father not to tell anyone about the award money; he’s trying to protect him from ridicule. But when Woody lets it slip out, everyone is convinced that he is indeed about to become a millionaire. The more David denies it, the more the townspeople believe it. And they all feel entitled to their share. “We helped him when he was down and out,” they claim. “He owes us!” The ugliness of greed and envy is forcefully demonstrated as Woody becomes both the town hero and the town villain because of his supposed windfall. But David becomes increasingly protective of his father, and his understanding and affection grow.

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is its treatment of the simple fact of aging. We see people who were once vital, quick, and strong now shuffling and slumped but still as dynamic on the inside as they ever were. One of my dearest friends, a gracious, talented 40-year-old living inside an 80-year-old body, once told me that it shocks her every time she looks into a mirror. “Honey, I just don’t know that woman,” she said. “I still feel 40.”

That seems to be the way the people in this film feel. Their bodies are stooped and wrinkled and their waists have expanded, but they are still active and involved in their community. (Well — except for Woody’s couch-potato brothers and nephews.) Particularly touching is Angela McEwan as Peg Nagy, a woman who had a crush on Woody before he met and married David’s mother. Peg is beautiful and charming, with a smile that starts deep in her eyes and lights up her face, even when she is holding back the sadness of losing the love of her life. Life wasn’t easy for the Depression generation, and they learned to take everything in stride.

Many of the actors inNebraska are new to the job; they were cast right in Plainview, Nebraska, where much of the movie was filmed. Director Alexander Payne said of his extras, “I pay myself few compliments, but I think [casting director] John Jackson and I cast well.”

They did indeed. This is a small film with an enormous heart and an outstanding cast. It will make you want to call your father and hug your mother. And even listen to them as they tell you yet again about that ’79 Impala that was really a Buick.


Editor's Note: Review of "Nebraska," directed by Alexander Payne. Paramount, 2013, 110 minutes.



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The Golden Years Really Are Golden

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A recent AP story caught my eye, since it bears upon an issue on which I have oft written — the coming pension tsunami, caused by the retirement of us Infamous Boomers.

It tells the news about the wealth gap between the Old and the Young. The gap is now the widest in American history. Despite occasional lurid stories about a grandmother eating cat food shortly before being wheeled off a cliff, the wealth gap favors . . . the old!

And the gap is enormous. Census data reveal that households headed by someone 65 or older have an average net worth 47 times greater than that of households headed by someone under 35. The median net worth of households headed by a person 65 or older is about $170,000, compared to a pathetic $3,662 of those headed by someone 34 or younger.

Moreover, the gap continues to widen. It has doubled over the past six years, and has increased fivefold during the past 25 years — even after adjustments are made for inflation. Astonishing, no?

There are a number of reasons for the declining relative fortunes of the young. One is that the Obama recession has totally creamed the young, especially young men. It is not for nothing that this has been called the “he-cession.” Besides that reason (though related to it), is the fact that young people are taking longer and accumulating more debt to get their degrees. And of course others are still paying mortgages on homes that have fallen disastrously in value.

The disparity is bleak, and in a way — considering all the granny-eating-cat-food propaganda — ironic. But the trend is decidedly the friend of the elderly: over the past quarter century, the wealth of households headed by the elderly rose by a whopping 42%, while the wealth of households headed by the young (under 35) declined by a dizzying 68%.

As if that weren’t bad enough, 37% of households headed by the young have a zero or even negative net worth! That is an increase of over 100% since 1984 (when the census first started keeping track of this happy stuff), and it is massive compared to the only 8% of elderly-headed households so cursed. And the median income of elderly-headed households has grown at a rate 400% greater than that for younger-headed households.

Net worth is here defined just as you would expect: by adding the value of homes, personal possessions, stacks, bonds, savings, and other property (such as cars, boats, and vacation properties), and subtracting credit card, auto, home, student loan, and other debts.

Now, how does the AARP — those redistributionist pirates who are always so intent on transferring assets from the young to the elderly — respond to the news that the 47 to 1 gap in net worth favoring the elderly is the highest in history? Of course, it greets it with greedy denial.

One Nancy Holland, a propagandist — pardon me, an executive vice-president — of the AARP puts it in the typical AARP spit-in-your-face-avariciously-aggressive fashion: “Millions of older Americans today continue to struggle to make ends meet. Many older Americans do own their homes, but plummeting housing values — along with dwindling savings, stagnant pensions, and prolonged periods of unemployment — have taken their toll.”

In short, screw the young people. As if their own homes and savings hadn’t been hard by this progressive liberal recession. As if they too hadn’t suffered unemployment. As if they had freaking pensions to rely on!

Our country is, alas, headed into the fiscal dustbin of history. Its aggregate national debt is approaching the dimensions of Greek tragedy, if not of Greece itself. But the AARP continues to wage a jihad against all entitlement program reforms. Future historians — if there are any who aren’t progressive liberals, hence wedded to the ideology of the redistributionist state — will record with incredulity the bizarre structure of a politico-economic system that in defiance of biological reality systematically starved the young to glut the old.

Maybe we need ads showing the grandkids eating cat food as they are pushed from a cliff.




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