The Shipping News

Newfoundland just won’t give us its news gracefully...

I’ve lived in Northern Maine and traveled up the Canadian coast toward Newfoundland, home of "The Shipping News." The setting overshadows all else -— it is forbidding and unforgiving, gray and cold, just as I remember it. The major house of the film is anchored by cable to the ground, so violent can the weather be. Weather and setting are fine examples of T.S. Eliot's objective correlative serving as touchstone for the lonely but rooted characters themselves.

Kevin Spacey plays a more passive and softer Quoyle than novelist Annie Proulx created in her Pulitizer-prize novel. But this is a movie, not a novel, so I will judge it on its own terms. Spacey's Quoyle gradually grows into assertiveness as a local writer for the eponymous newspaper. His love interest Wavy (Julianne Moore) has told him he always backs away, so he wins her and overcomes adversity and a family history of sordid buccaneers and murderers. His Aunt Agnis (Judy Dench) fights the incest demon with patience and strength.

Lasse Hallstrom also directed "Cider House Rules" with equal attention to sentimentality but much stronger characters than in "News." In "Cider House" I felt sympathy for Homer and Dr. Larch; in "Shipping News" I feel only Qouyle and Wavy’s loneliness, no sympathy. In "Cider House" incest is a formidable theme; in "Shipping News" it is like the landscape -— dark and always there.

Newfoundland just won’t give us its news gracefully.