"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wTuesday, January 21, 2003

LAST DAYS: Went with Em to see About Schmidt tonight. Call me Mr. Head-in-the-sand but I had somehow managed to avoid pretty much any of the publicity surrounding it. So readers can forgive me for wondering aloud "What are all these old people doing here?"

Schmidt, in the literal sense, is about a retired insurance risk calculator from Omaha whose life did not pan out quite the way he was hoping. He never had a large family, never did anything great, and feels out of step with the modern world (when he returns to his old office, he finds that all of his old files have been tossed into the trash). When his wife dies, he slowly begins to realize just how alone and powerless he is. His only daughter is about to be married to what can only be described as white trash, and any attempts by Schmidt to talk some sense into the girl only piss her off. The only outlet he has are letters that he writes to a foreign "foster child" named "Ndugu" (so help me, I laughed every time he said that name).

Casting Jack Nicholson in the part of Schmidt was brilliant because throughout the movie you always wonder when he's going to cast aside this polite, aging facade and really cut loose: first after his wife's death, then when he discovers his wife had a long-ago fling, then, finally, at the wedding reception.

But those old folks did not come to the theatre to see Jack lose it; they came because Schmidt has tapped into some powerful generational feelings. Many over 65 types are lonely or about to be so. The loosening of family ties and smaller families mean that they have less to fall back on when they lose their mates. (This bites down particularly hard on men, who are more solitary by nature and thus less likely to have developed a network of friends to help cushion the blow.)

Before I had watched Schmidt, I had thought of RV's and motor homes as libratory devices--allowing fossils to get in that traveling that they had always wanted to do in relative comfort. I haven't abandoned that view but I now see it as only one possible interpretation. Another, implicitly put forward in the movie, is that the explosion of RV's is about running away from a world that some no longer understand in search of some sort of meaning yet to be found.

Ah, I think I'd better quit now, before I start sounding like some kind of Luddite or something.

posted by Jeremy at 3:31 AM