I drove home in silence after seeing “Nebraska” for the first time. It didn’t occur to me until a few miles later that I hadn’t bothered turning on the radio. That’s unusual for me. I always have the radio on. Instead, I was deep in thought and teary-eyed. I suspect many people who have cared for an aging parent felt the same way after seeing the Oscar-nominated film.
Will Forte’s character, David, is like many of us – trying our best to help our folks do the things that will keep them going. Yes, caregiving is about making sure our loved ones make their doctor appointments. It’s about calling in their prescriptions and picking them up. It’s about buying their groceries and making sure their bills are paid. But it’s also about entertaining their quirky whims, even when you’re not sure it’s a good idea.
For me, “Nebraska” is a love story. It’s a movie that accurately and tenderly depicts a son’s love for his father. The father, played by Bruce Dern, doesn’t make it easy. Woody is a man of few words, a curmudgeon. He lives in Montana and insists on going to Nebraska to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize he thinks he’s won. David finally agrees to take him giving them a chance to spend time together.
The performances by everyone in this film were terrific, but what stood out the most for me was Forte’s character. It’s an understated performance by a guy known more for his outlandish “Saturday Night Live” skits. Yet throughout the movie, I recognized the look on his face. Forte didn’t need to say much. His expressions conveyed it all – the frustration, concern, curiosity and amusement. Even the funny moments – and there were plenty – resonated with me. Because when you’re a caregiver, you have to find humor in certain situations. It’s the only thing that keeps you sane.
I saw the film for a second time with my husband, and we talked about it a lot afterward. A couple of summers ago, our fathers died two months apart. I saw my dad’s health slowly decline for six years after he suffered a major stroke. Helping him and my mom consumed a lot of my time. Today, my mom, who’s a week away from turning 85, is still my biggest concern.
I’m glad Alexander Payne made this movie. It’s honest about caregiving – the heartbreaking situations and even the absurd, funny moments.