I watched the movie NEBRASKA, because the score’s composer and interprets come from the S.F. Bay Area. We have crossed paths here and there. What surprise to discover that the storyline depicts the successive and successful phases of a validating intervention. First coms the fear: if I say “Yes” what is going to happen? I don’t have time. It is unsafe. I am going to lose control. It is dangerous. Once the Validation process starts we follow the bumpy ride, the change of plans, the doubts, the revisiting of the past, the resolution, the enrichment, the gifts and the growth in humanity, self-knowledge and love.
At the center of the opening frame we see a white-haired elderly man walking towards us. He shuffles slowly along the sidewalk of a major roadway, maybe the industrial outskirt of a town. No one else walks there. Soon after, we meet his wife, the caregiver and safety keeper of her confused husband. She has been “wearing the pants” for a long time because of the man’s drinking problem and other issues. She brags about her sanity, brains, sex appeal and sense of responsibility. She is angry, aggressive, nasty and tired. She expresses it by swearing a lot and acting tough. She is ready to put the husband “in a home”, if they had the money. The two sons, David and Ross, answer their mother’s frequent emergency calls. They rush in to try to control their father’s behavior. This constant pressure might have led to David’s girlfriend recently breaking up. During a short visit, she sadly points out that David does not take care of his house plants. We understand she is comparing herself to the neglected greenery.
The three family members refuse to listen to the father. They reason, they swear, they force, they distract, they redirect. They are angry, they suffer, they are humiliated until David, changes his approach. What if?
What if I was listening to my Dad? To me his statement does not make sense but for him it seems very important. I only have one dad. I already have lost a girlfriend because I could not listen and care. What if I was trying to listen? David listens professionally. He sells home audio equipment. Is it why he is the one able to try a different approach?
Off they go, on the listening/validating/accompanying road. There are bumps. The dad is unpredictable or maybe not. He is independent and attracted to bars as he has always been. David wishes it would be different, but he ends up drinking too. Does this count as empathy?
The bumps get bigger, up to the classics: the fall followed by the trip to the emergency room; questions, doubt, plan revision, adapt to the moment, compromise.
Trip to the past: a mandatory detour in the Validation technique. Every bump in the present has its root in the past. If we listen, the past will come up. It will be scary and painful but it will lead to resolution: being at peace, at least for a while, with what happened or what did not happen.
Peaceful return to reality: the mark of a successful intervention, when it is possible to step from internal to external reality. Trust allows the transition. A relationship has been build. Both partners can dominate their fears and accept the reality. In the movie, the son accepts to take the father to the bogus million dollars lottery office. The father accepts, finally, that he did not receive the winning ticket. The banality of the office and the simplicity of the interaction with the employee, symbolize that the whole story is not about winning or losing money. The son gives his time, his beliefs and even his car to help his dad to full resolution. In a dream-like scene, the aging father makes a triumphant ride through his home town, becoming the lucky winner he never was. In the final sequence, the father is done. He calmly let his son takes the wheel. They drive away from us, together, in harmony.
Nebraska, 2013, directed by Alexander Payne, soundtrack by Mark Orton, interpreted by the original Tin Hat Trio members.