The Shipping News

The world of The Shipping News, based on the book of the same name by E. Annie Proulx, is populated with a number of dysfunctional people passing as “normal”, only because they are fortunate enough to have average IQs. Emotional wreck Quoyle, having been raised by a cruel father, who almost drowns him using the ‘sink or swim’ method to teach him swimming, returns to his childhood home in Newfoundland after both his career as an inksetter in New York, and his relationship with Petal, a woman who sleeps around and drinks during her pregnancy with his daughter Bunny, go bust.
The latter flames out in spectacular fashion, with Petal and her latest man on the side dying an instant but accidental death after having crashed into a highway guardrail, and the police locating them and reclaiming Bunny after Petal apparently sold Bunny to an illegal adoption broker. Though Petal is never given a diagnosis in the movie, serious emotional problems are thereby implied. It is much the same with Quoyle’s father, who might well be a sociopath, as he not only “raped his little sister” but spends Quoyle’s formative years belittling him, the harassment only ending when he commits suicide, leaving a note with a parting guilt trip.
At least, unlike in real life, in the movie, these people die expediently before Quoyle returns to Newfoundland with his preteen daughter Bunny to make a fresh start. (He returns there because between family property- a rent-free house on a windy cliff kept from blowing away by tie-down cables-and a newspaper job arranged by family and friends, it is, at least in theory, relatively easy for him to survive and provide for his daughter.)
Alas, his new life will not be so easy: his newspaper job covering auto accidents, shipping news, etc., seems to be calculated to trigger his presumed PTSD.
Knocking around in a lonely old house full of draughts and creaks, Quoyle’s daughter Bunny starts claiming to see ghosts and engaging in such uncharacteristic behaviors as “bashing the brains out of her baby doll”, which the mental health establishment would consider to be signs of a disturbed child.
New love interest widow Wavey Prowse sees such things in a very different way, describing Bunny as “sensitive” (to supernatural phenomena), telling Quoyle not to worry about it. She seems quite normal, and even emotionally stable, though her son Herry, a boy who seems to physically be Bunny’s age, is marked by society and his appearance (hanging mouth, upturned eyes) as not being so. (Local opinion has it that the boy “ain’t right” because she was holding him while her husband drowned in a boating accident.)
When Wavey introduces Herry to Bunny and Quoyle at the playground, Bunny asks “what’s wrong with him?”.
Wavey at first tells Bunny that nothing is wrong with him, but later elaborates that “When he was being born, he didn’t get enough air to breathe, and that makes him a little slower than most people”. Herry does not speak then, or at any other time during the picture.
At a later time, Quoyle sees Herry standing outside his car, moving his head to track the swaying of his windshield wipers.
Though nothing more than a superficial acquaintance is made of Herry in the movie, it is revealed that other people are not quite what they seem in some respects. When reminiscing, Aunt Agnis, a dignified matriarch in the rest of the movie, described “the love of her life” as a woman named Irene, shown in an old photograph. Wavey reveals that her husband left her voluntarily (and is presumably still alive somewhere) but that she wrecked his boat and feigning widowhood, gained the sympathy and support of the townspeople thereby.


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