2014 Reel Theology: Nebraska (Movie #6)

My reactions to Nebraska, with an attempt not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

The pre-movie expectations

I have very few expectations, none of the few I have particularly good.  I saw a trailer which was in black and white, and heard only the vaguest of accounts of what the story was about.

The unfolding

 I’m watching with two of my nieces and I’m looking forward to the easy relaxed time in the middle of a fairly intense (but thoroughly enjoyable) teaching schedule for the week, watching a movie with them, regardless of how it turns out.  The movie is indeed black and white, and I am immediately wondering why.  Is there a reasons we’re going with black and white here?  The movie reveals itself early on to be a leisurely paced movie, perhaps intentionally symbolized by the slow shuffling gait of one of the two primary characters in the movie, an elderly man who wants to go to Nebraska to collect his “Million Dollar winnings.”  His son, while convinced that this is a scam, decides to drive his father to Nebraska (mostly because continuing to let him try walking there is becoming dangerous.)  The son, turns out to be a very likable character throughout, without being at all saccharine or unrealistic.  I think of the movies I’ve watched so far on this years Oscar Journey, and he may be the most likable character in any of them, on par, and possibly beating out Captain Phillips or Philomena’s mom.  I like having characters to root for.  It makes me care more deeply about what happens to them.  The father is not particularly likable, but in sympathy with the son, I begin to root for him as well.


The story

Without spoiling any of the story, I’ll just speak in generalities.  I begin to understand the black and white as part of the overall tone of the movie.  The music, the pacing..it all seems to be aimed at making us feel sort of out of place.  Like the whole world is a little anachronistic, because this is how it feels to Woody (the father) to live in the world.  Most of the story takes place in a  town in Nebraska where time seems to have stopped.  No one under 40 seems to be allowed in the town and nothing seems to ever change.  At the same time, there is nothing nostalgic about the black and white or about the movie.  Woody’s recollections are confused at best, and completely wrong at worst.  As dreary as his present seems to be, it might in fact be preferable to his past.  

There are no big surprises in plot, but there are revelations in terms of character.  People are not quite who we thought they were, sometimes turning out better, sometimes worse.

My reaction

I liked this movie quite a lot.  In fact, the more I ponder it, the more I like it.  I like it better today then I did yesterday, as if the slowly unfolding movie is still unfolding with more deepening character revelations than I first saw.  It’s an easy movie, pleasant, slow paced, and not really provocative in any way, but it somehow turns out to be satisfying and richer than first appears, like the black and white of the movie.  At first you wonder why, but at a certain point, it just feels right, and you no longer wonder.

My Seven Themes thoughts so far.

Fellowship is a big theme.  In many ways every single character plays into the redemption of David (Woody’s son).  Without spoiling anything, I won’t go much further, but save it for the Seven Themes Sermon, but this seems a strong aspect of “saving the world.” in this movie. 

Redemption is, of course, a big part of this movie as well.  It’s redemption of David mostly, but also of his relationships, of his view of the world and those around him.  He becomes less passive and more active in defending, and defining those relationships as the movie progresses and that is the big win.  It’s not particularly subtle, but it’s definitely satisfying.

Alternate worlds is not super strong, but it’s seen in a generational way.

Christ figure is an interesting one.  If it’s about saving David, then I’m tempted to say Woody is the Christ figure.  If it’s about saving Woody, then  David is.  But if it’s about their mutual redemption, I’m tempted to blame the “letter” or “Nebraska” itself.  If you’ve seen it, you might see why I’d say that.

Resurrection is present in the metaphorical manner it often is.  David is resurrected, possibly Woody as well.

Suybstitutionary love is a key component of David’s redemption.

Current Ranking in my mind.



Captain Phillips


Dallas Buyers Club

American Hustle


I rate movies according to how much of my money and time they are worth.  My rating for this movie is bolded below.

Worth a full price movie ticket (With reservations.  I’d really like to put this in a half slot between matinee and full price, but only cause I don’t know if I’d feel it was less worth it if I had spent more than a dollar at the red box on this movie!)

Worth a matinee viewing.

Worth a dollar movie viewing.

Worth a DVD/itunes rental

Watch it on Netflix

Watch it on TV on a Saturday Afternoon when you’v nothing else to do and you’r sonly laying around anyway.

Not worth your time

Influencing factors in my reactions

Watching with my nieces was a lot of fun.  Discussing it with them and my brother and my daughter Lo, increased my enjoyment and made me like it more.  Watching a Red Box version in a comfortable setting sets it up for lower expectations and requirement, to be worth my time, and this definitely was.  I was hungry for a likable character which has been absent in so many movies.  

This is just my reaction.  What was yours?


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