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The Shipping News

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
The Shipping News
from Film Forum, 01/10/02

Writer Robert Nelson Jacobs and director Lasse HallstrÖm (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) offer up an adaptation of the E. Annie Proulx's award-winning novel The Shipping News this month, to a mixed critical response.

It's a change of pace for Kevin Spacey, who usually plays smug, sarcastic antiheroes. Here he's a mellowing newspaperman named Quoyle, returning home to the coast of Newfoundland, where he tries to put the pieces of his shattered life back together. We learn about his various crises through a series of flashbacks—not only is his wife promiscuous, but she's placing their daughter in a dangerous and perverse situation. On top of that, he's dealing with the death of his father, and several dark family secrets. Perhaps a new relationship with a sensitive woman (Julianne Moore) can bring healing, but Quoyle has a long way to go.

Many religious press critics winced at seeing characters whose lives show evidence of sinful attitudes and behaviors. But others found profound moral lessons and evidence of God's grace in these realistic stories of mixed-up people.

"Artistically," says Phil Boatwright, "cast and director deliver the goods. But it never gives evidence that these damaged people seek a spiritual healing. Jacobs … and … HallstrÖm seek a human solution to things like incest and family neglect, carefully leaving Christ out of the equation. If you examine their other work, although artistically well done, both Jacobs and HallstrÖm ignore God or employ themes that mock Christian beliefs."

"HallstrÖm beautifully captures the stark bleakness of Newfoundland," says the USCC's critic, "but the languid, episodic narrative feels compressed, and the characters never evolve beyond one dimension."

Christopher Okkerse (Christian Spotlight on the Movies) says, "I found this movie a little dry, unlike the beautiful scenery filmed in its Newfoundland setting. [It] left me with the feeling that I had just woken up from a weird dream. But it's the kind of dream I wish I could forget."

Mary Draughon (Preview) says that a brief sex scene, some violence, and some "salty language" "wreck The Shipping News."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) calls it "a sometimes dry-humored character study." Spacey's troubled hero "has many positive moral traits … [but he] also expresses politically-correct sentiments toward lesbian homosexuality and against oil companies." Sounding something like a chef, Snyder suggests, "A good writer or director could … cut out the evil content, add some Christian elements, and create a more wholesome, uplifting movie with great depth."

Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) thinks the film is uplifting, with great depth. "Quoyle is … in a sense, drowning in his life and in his history. But as he lives among these people and grows within himself, there is an opening for him to move beyond his fears and suffering." He sees this as evidence of a sinful man regaining something of Eden through the grace of God. "Just as the Garden may be hidden in our lives waiting to be recognized, so too does the landscape in The Shipping News yield its beauty when Quoyle discovers a new life in this community and love that can bring joy and fulfillment."

"HallstrÖm does an admirable job," says Marie Asner (The Phantom Tollbooth), "with the help of photographer Oliver Stapleton, Christopher Young's soundtrack and a group of talented actors. As we move through the film, we see that virtually everyone in the story has a secret to hide. What happens when these deep, devastating secrets begin to surface is the main current of the film."

Michael Elliott places this film among his ten favorites of 2001. "HallstrÖm clearly has the ability to find and display the emotional lives of his characters without his films becoming maudlin or melodramatic." He finds insight in this story of a man trying to escape his tendencies. "Quoyle has a lot of history to live down. His father was not what we'd consider to be a fine role model, and Quoyle is concerned that it might be genetic. The thing to remember is that righteousness is not embedded in our DNA. It is a free will choice which God grants to each of us. Whether we come from a family of saints, or a family of sinners, there comes a time when we must choose which course our lives will take."


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