Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Nebraska the movie, not the place January 27, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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An edited photo of the DVD cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo January 2023)

IT TAKES A LOT for a movie to hold my interest. I’d rather read a book. But the 2013 film “Nebraska” certainly grabbed, and held, my interest.

By self-admittance, I seldom watch movies. I can’t recall the last movie I saw inside a theater. Or rather, I should clarify, the last time I watched a movie in its entirety in a theater. I walked out on a “John Wick” film not even an hour in. That was on a rainy Memorial Day weekend in 2019 when, for lack of anything better to do, Randy, Caleb and I decided to go to the movies. I knew nothing of “John Wick” or the level of violence portrayed in this series. I watched for awhile, fidgeted, closed by eyes, then walked out, demanded a refund and got one. I haven’t been inside a movie theater since.

Yes, I acknowledge ignorance about movies, about the film industry, about actors and actresses and nearly anything Hollywood-related. I mostly dislike the obsessive hype and adoration. Certainly, talented creatives exist in the field. But often the attention and praise heaped on Hollywood seem excessive.

Faribault’s vacated Family Video, closed in February 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

But then along comes a film like “Nebraska,” which Randy found at our local library while I was browsing for books. Buckham Memorial Library is our source for DVDs since the closing of Faribault’s Family Video about a year ago. Not that we frequented the video rental store much, but occasionally. Just like we occasionally check out movies from the library. Our kids laugh that we still watch DVDs. But, hey, we still get our television reception from a rooftop antenna and don’t stream anything. We are old school that way and I’m OK with that. Like I said, I prefer reading a book.

Back to the 10-year-old film “Nebraska.” Although it didn’t win any of the six Academy Awards for which it was nominated, it should have. I loved everything about the movie which tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) on a road trip from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, with his son David (Will Forte). The plot revolves around the aging Woody’s belief that he’s won a mega sweepstakes prize. You know, the kind of “prize” announced in a mailing to unsuspecting folks who, like Woody, fail to read the fine print.

The storyline premise is basic and believable, the characters realistic. As the plot progresses and word gets out about Woody’s presumed wealth, family and friends appear, wanting a share of the money. Greed emerges, just as in real life when families squabble over inheritances and possessions.

This shot of Main Street in Belview in my home county on the prairie looks similar to scenes in “Nebraska.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited file photo)

Set in rural America—from small town Main Street (Woody’s hometown) to corner bar to rural cemetery—the scenes in “Nebraska” look a lot like the southwestern Minnesota prairie where I grew up. No surprise given the Nebraska filming locations. I felt comfortably at home in the landscapes of this movie while settled in my Minnesota home.

That the film shows totally in black-and-white strips the scenes, allowing characters and dialogue and setting to shine without distractions. At first I thought this was a Coen brothers (of “A Serious Man” and “Fargo” fame) movie. It’s not. Alexander Payne directs “Nebraska.” The music reminds me of the music in “Sweet Land,” another all-time favorite film.

“Nebraska” mixes drama and comedy to create a movie that is simultaneously entertaining, sad, funny, insightful and every day ordinary. Kate Grant (June Squibb), the strong and opinionated woman married to Woody, delivers some of the film’s most powerfully honest and comedic moments.

I wish I’d viewed this movie in a theater rather than horizontally elongated on a TV screen. I know for certain that I would have sat there focused, fully-engaged, eyes wide open until the very end.

TELL ME: Have you seen “Nebraska”? If yes, what are your thoughts on the film? Any movies you recommend I check out from my local library or view in a movie theater?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “Nebraska the movie, not the place”

  1. beth Says:

    I loved this movie, and haven’t thought about it in a long time. bruce and June were both excellent in this and the town played the perfect setting for this very human story. when you talk about Hollywood, I have to agree, though I absolutely love movies as a way to tell a story. in my old career, I worked in advertising, and our main clients were film studios. one of the reasons I left the business and went back to school to become a teacher at age 40 was because most of it was all so hollow and phony and only cared about the dollars. I mostly worked with independent and foreign films over time and these were my favorite as they were not the big Hollywood productions and had a meaning beyond money for making most of them. I wanted to do something more humanistic, that would help people, and especially children, and that business wasn’t it for me. when I became a teacher, I felt like it wasn’t even a job and I love every day. as for dvd’s, I do the same thing, get most of them from my local library and my kids can’t believe it.)

    • Beth, I feel like I understand you so much better after reading this comment. I especially love your statement that teaching does not feel like a job because you love it THAT much. You are in the right place, with those little people.

      I also appreciate your thoughts on the movie industry from an insider’s perspective.

      And our kids can laugh all they want about our checking DVDs out from our local libraries.

  2. Ida Fetterer Says:

    Loved Loved Loved Sweet Land. Still one of my all time favorites. I felt so connected to that movie with all my Norwegian roots and German too. I would enjoy seeing Nebraska, thanks for the heads up!!

    • Ida, so nice to read that you love “Sweet Land” apparently as much as I do. I also saw a musical production of the film by the St. Paul-based History Theatre in 2017. The performers came to Faribault and I was thrilled to see their on-stage version. It was fantastic. Yes, you would like “Nebraska.”

  3. I have seen this movie and really liked it. The ending was wonderful with Woody and the truck! 🙂
    A movie I’m sure you would like is “Second Hand Lions.” It’s very sweet and touching. I bet you can find it at the library.

  4. Valerie Says:

    I borrow our DVD’s from the library too.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Bernadette Arlene Thomasy Says:

    It’s been a few years since I saw Nebraska in a theater but I can still recall the lonely but beautiful landscapes and the characters who show so much grit and determination. The small-town details are spot on, too. Glad Randy found it.

  6. I enjoyed this movie and I am a fan of Bruce Dern as well as his daughter Laura Dern. I agree the landscapes remind one of MN and I have been in Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming – some magnificent and beautiful country. Purple skies, buffalo roam, et. al. I have to say the Black Hills area is right up there with visiting Yellowstone for me. We are heading to Missoula next year – our flower girl in our wedding is getting married – break out the Stetson and cowboy boots – Yeehaw! Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  7. Saw this movie. It also reminded me of the Midwest prairie areas and all the squabbling over inheritances. Also, the fact that some people can be so gullible when it comes to things like that. I believe I watched it on my Apple subscription at the start of COVID… haven’t been to a theater in years!

  8. Rei Clearly Says:

    I saw Nebraska, albeit awhile ago, I loved it!

  9. Rose Says:

    I haven’t seen ‘Nebraska’ but watching the previews online made me feel like – I know those people. I also recommend Second Hand Lions as another commentor suggested. We don’t watch many movies, and haven’t been in the theater for 3-4 years. Mostly we like superhero movies, but have gotten a bit burned out by the onslaught. Yesterday we signed up for a test of Netflix – so I can watch ‘Enola Holmes’ and ‘Emily in Paris’. Hope they’re as good as I’ve heard.

  10. Ken Wedding Says:

    Last week we saw “A Man Called Otto.” It’s based on a book (A Man Called Ove) that was so good I read it twice. That was a very rare occurrence for me. The movie was (for me) at least as good as the book. It’s still playing in Dundas, It’s worth a trip to see it on a big screen.


  11. C olleen Gengler Says:

    I too enjoyed Nebraska but haven’t thought of it in a long time, I agree with Ken, you might like A Man Called Otto. It is sad but also positive and hopeful. Try the book (A Man Called Ove) first. Your library might have the original movie which goes by the same name as the book. It has subtitles. I would second Nomadland. Again, you could try the book first. It is a fascinating look at people who travel the country and have no physical home, but do not consider themselves homeless. It is based on Jessica Bruder’s book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.

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