Enter the dream
If you like straightforward, plot-driven films, “Northfork” probably isn’t for you. But, if you’re willing to dream a little, to enter a surreal world concerned with style, tone and shades of gray, then you may deeply appreciate “Northfork.”
Producers Mark and Michael Polish approach the film as a fairy tale, blending real and surreal moments as if they are the same. This makes the film challenging to follow in the beginning but worth the journey in the end.
The Polish brothers intertwine several characters’ experiences into the film, and each perspective portrays how different people prepare for major life changes.
The basic premise: State agents urge residents in a small town in Montana to leave their homes before the government floods the town to build a new hydroelectric project.
Dressed in black, the agents believe they are saving people, but their dry humor proves otherwise. Before they enter a house to force the residents out, they look at the tattered welcome mat and comment, “Looks like they’ve worn out their welcome.” This comes before a scene where agents take an oath to “do no harm” to residents then learn they’ll receive lakefront property if they each vacate 65 households.
When they meet a man who builds an ark around his house (and, in a misguided attempt to imitate Noah, fortifies it with two Chevys and two wives), they try to appeal to his godly beliefs.
The absurd comedy (which provokes chuckles rather than belly laughs) contrasts the overall bleak, deliberate tone of the film.
Meanwhile, another story about an orphan named Irwin unfolds. During a critical illness, the boy dreams he meets earthbound angels (or are they real?).
These aren’t your ordinary cherubs or harp-playing heavenly bodies. These angels have problems. There’s Happy (Anthony Edwards), a blind, double-amputee; Flower Hercules (Daryl Hannah), an androgynous, childless caretaker; Cod (Ben Foster), a mute cowboy; and Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs) who, from his drunken state, appears to sip a stronger brew than tea.
They provide Irwin with nurturing and a sense of comfort during his illness. And Irwin gives them a sense of hope and completion.
The Polish brothers use props, costumes and sets with shades of gray rather than color, giving the movie more of a black-and-white feel. The shades of gray, along with the shades of fantasy and reality, allow viewers to delve into the subtle meanings as deeply as they wish.
And, every now and then, they throw in thought-provoking lines like, “We are all angels. It is what we do with our wings that separates us,” (spoken by Father Harlan (Nick Nolte). The end clinches the sentiments portrayed throughout “Northfork.”
By far, the most compelling elements of the film are the artistically shot scenes. The unhurried pace allows the eyes and mind to expand into the Polish brothers’ creative vision.
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