Nebraska has a central theme which connects the whole story through the journey Woody and his son David take together. As I stated earlier, I feel Woody is a weak man and has always been one, pretty much manipulated by the women in his life. He seems to suffer from Alzheimer, but we never hear that it has been diagnosed. He has been running away from the family trying to get to Lincoln, Nebraska because he has a flier which says that he has won a million dollars. His family has explained that it’s not true, that he hasn’t won anything. However, Woody ignores them and tries to get to Jackson on his own by foot even though it’s about 600-800 miles away. He tells David that he’s walking since they don’t want to take him to collect his money. He understands clearly that the family doesn’t want to take him to collect his money. He doesn’t seem to be concerned that he doesn’t have the strength or capacity to walk that distance. It never once occurs to Woody that he can’t walk all that distance from Billings, Montana to Nebraska. He simply takes off without caring how much worry he causes his wife and sons. On the other hand, he might have used that trick to get his son David to take him to Nebraska. Woody doesn’t have much of a relationship with his wife and little regard for his sons. There’s little communication coming from Woody toward his family. The oldest son seems to have little respect for his father. He tells David, “He’s never given a shit about us.” Woody gives that impression of not caring for his family. It’s interesting that he forgets things and remembers others. Throughout the journey, Woody keeps remembering that he can’t drive because he doesn’t have a license. I feel that an Alzheimer patient wouldn’t think twice about not having a license and would drive a car without it if he still had the cognitive skills to do so. One thing we do know, Woody has the power. Even though he speaks hardly a word, everyone is attentive to all his needs and what he says. Finally, in desperation and compassion, David, his youngest son, agrees to take him to Nebraska to collect his million dollar reward.
Throughout the journey, Woody speaks little with his son. He keeps taking off without telling him, always moving toward Nebraska. He seems to know how to get to Nebraska. Woody makes no effort to help his son who has put his job on the side to take him to Nebraska. But the journey, the propinquity of the situation and David’s endearing and endless patience begins to break through Woody’s impenetrable façade. There’s the joke David cracks about Woody’s dentures. Woody tells him that he lost his dentures at the railroad track. They go looking for them, and David miraculously finds them. He hands them to his father. Woody takes them and as he puts them on, David says that they’re not his. Woody looks at them with a frown, and David says quickly that it’s a joke, that the dentures are his. Woody stares at the dentures and says, ‘They’re not mine,” something to that effect. David looks concerned and starts to look again. Then Woody tells him it’s a joke. That’s one of the few times that father and son have a moment of communion, and it’s touching. The movie has endearing family moments and other times when you want to defend or punish Woody. The whole journey is a study of family psychopathology. During that journey, one experiences all the spectrum of human emotions: love, anger, greed, hate, dislike, jealousy, etc. in varying degrees.
I haven’t much to say about Woody’s wife Kay. I think her name was Kay. I will say that she held the family together. She seemed an embittered person. She finally got the guy, Woody, married him and then there was no fanfare because there was no love from the very beginning. At this point in their married life, she has a nasty mouth that goes on and on, but it is understandable. When a woman doesn’t get any kind of loving attention from her husband, the negative energy comes out through her mouth in nasty attacks or comments. However, women like her are the salt of the earth. She has her hands full with a man who is suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer and is constantly running away. Whether she’s nasty to Woody or not, it’s obvious she does love him from tender moments we see in the hospital where she smooths Woody’s hair back and kisses him. She’s a down to earth person who has done her best for her family. She does not speak with a forked-tongue. If she has to say something, she says it frankly and openly. She speaks the truth. Even though she was a good mother and character, I didn’t particularly like her. I felt she wasn’t right for Woody. She found a way to hook him and won the war. However, now, in this late period of their lives, there’s no love between them. Woody tells David once when he asked him if he loved his mother before they married. Woody answered that love had nothing to do with it when he married Kay. He said it with a straight face without affect, very matter-of-factly.
Later in the journey, we find out that Woody had a first sweetheart, Peg Bender. I liked her very much, very down to earth woman. Just in that short scene, one feels that she’s warm and caring. She seems to be fun too. I think she would have made a better wife for Woody. She tells David right off that she lost Woody to Kay because she, Peg, wouldn’t have sex with Woody. She has a great life of her own with her children and runs the newspaper of the town where Woody grew up.
Woody stops by his brother’s home where the new characters come into the picture. Woody’s brother seems to be dead on a chair watching tv. The twins are jobless, sitting around watching tv with their dad. There’s no communication among that family, but that seems to be the way midwesterners relate to one another. At least, that’s what I was told by one. The twin’s mother is very sociable trying to bring everybody together. They sit and watch tv with silent, stoic faces. David tries to start a conversation and gets nowhere, so he stops.They all become excited when they find out Woody has won a million dollars.
The twins are big, overweight men who drink a lot. Peg Bender says that people start drinking young there because that’s all there is to do. The twins don’t seem very bright to me, the way they talked about speeding with no regard to rules and safety. They were a strange couple those two.
A luncheon is held with all of Woody’s brothers, wives, etc. They all seemed very nice, until they heard that Woody won one million dollars. Then everything changes. When the extended family finds out that Woody has won a million dollars, we get to see the true character in these people.