My father never owned a new car. A Volkswagen, station wagon, two Dodge Plymouth vans, a couple of Buicks (one with an ’72 Olympic emblem on the hood), all with driver’s seats formed in the shape of previous owners. He seemed to like these cars, took great care of them, especially the vans with the seats that sat him up high above all the other drivers.
However, apparently, the car my father always coveted was a brand new pick-up truck. He kept his material desires close to heart as he came from poor beginnings, and grew up through the depression-era times. He sweated his way through a PhD and helped, along with my mom, put four kids through college. He never had money for a new car. I didn’t know he wanted one.
At seventy-eight years of age, there it was, sitting all big and shiny out front of the house I’d grown up in, when I came home for one of my infrequent visits from New York.
Why wouldn’t he want a new car? Of course he did. He was human, after all, I reminded myself. But a pick-up? We lived in a quiet suburban tract home in Orange Country, not on a farm, say, in Nebraska.
Woody (Bruce Dern), in the film Nebraska, thinks he’s won a million dollars after receiving a Sweepstakes letter in the mail. He starts walking to Lincoln, Nebraska from Billings, Montana because he wants to pick up his winnings in person and his wife won’t drive him there (he doesn’t trust the mail).
After a variety of failed attempts, his son David (Will Forte), after reiterating again to his father about the hoax, relents and drives him there. “He just needs something to do,” he says in response to his mother’s vicious berating, something she makes a pastime of. You want to strangle her at first, but she grows on you, unexpectedly, a huge credit to an exquisite acting job by June Squibb (I hope she was acting).
A few mishaps on the way to Lincoln (Stanley likes to drink), and they end up spending the weekend visiting Stanley’s brothers in the Podunk town where Stanley grew up. Stanley is a man of few, if any words, a man who doesn’t know how to say no, like my father, and as a result was taken advantage of throughout his life, what we begin to learn, like he was now by the Sweepstakes. “He’s someone who believes what he’s told,” David says at one point, a quote I’ve taken out of context so as not to ruin what for me was the best visceral moment I’ve experienced in a film in a long time (or at least since last weekend’s Great Beauty).
At one point the son, frustrated by his father’s relentless pursuit of this ridiculous mission, begs Woody to explain why he wants the money so badly and Woody blurts out with all the bitterness for a world that has made him for want at all, “I want a new truck!”
My heart lodges into the base of my throat. Wow. There it is. A new truck, the pinnacle, what speaks to one’s peers, family, and friends—I’ve made it. I’ve succeeded. I’m somebody, too.
Even a dispassionate Woody has succumbed, yes. Haven’t we all.