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.

Code of the Freaks

Fans of Salome Chasnoff’s previously linked Hollywood Images of Disability (since disappeared) can breathe a little easier now; it hasn’t gone away for good, it’s just being reworked into a full length documentary titled Code of the Freaks.

Charlie Bartlett

Prep school student Charlie Bartlett is caught forging driver’s licenses and expelled yet again, setting him up for a transfer to public school and a prescription for Ritalin. Charlie ventures onto a school bus for presumably the first time, and encounters an overly friendly fellow who we are meant to consider intellectually challenged. (In a clear allusion to Of Mice and Men, the guy is named Len Arbuckle.)

Len offers to share his unwrapped lollipops with Charlie, and is (surprisingly) not rebuffed. Similarly, Charlie accepts gracefully when Len asks to sit next to him at lunch on his first day of school; an act which, as every schoolchild knows, will determine his social status for the rest of the year. Accordingly, he quickly becomes a target of the school bully Murphy Bivens.

Charlie hits upon a plan to both elevate his social standing and get rid of his unwanted doses of Ritalin; he uses Len to bodily compel Murphy into meeting with him, and has him sell the rest of his pills. The aftermath of the school dance where almost everybody is high includes Len chasing two giggling half-naked girls down the school hallway, wearing a bra and someone’s dress as a superhero cape. Good thing the school administration is largely absent, because a stunt like that is sure to get a special education student labeled as a sex offender in real life.

Soon the depressed and disaffected know that Charlie can get them the drugs that they have no access to, and Charlie brings their problems to a string of psychiatrists all too eager to write him a quick prescription without double-checking how many other drugs he’s supposedly using.

But if Charlie’s motivations in bilking his doctors and health insurance privileges in an effort to reassure his fellow students that “everything will be ok” are well-intentioned, he clearly hasn’t considered that he could be abusing the privileges afforded him. It’s always poverty-stricken Murphy holding the contraband, and easily-manipulated Len as the heavy. Should things hit the fan, it would be those two suffering the consequences. Len would be labeled violent and consigned to the worst circle-of-hell group home when he comes of age. Fortunately, Charlie is convinced of the folly of his methods before it’s too late, and pulls out of the drug-pushing business. Len is barely seen again in the film, except for a brief glimpse of him wistfully watching Charlie’s girlfriend singing.

As It Is in Heaven (Så Som i Himmelen)

As It Is in Heaven is the story of Daniel Dareus, a prominent conductor who returns to his hometown after a heart attack, and gets involved in the rag-tag (as evidenced by the presence of an elderly lady with a hearing aid) village church choir to be near a pretty girl named Lena. Newly hired as cantor but not much of a believer, Daniel first encounters a developmentally disabled young man named Tore smilingly wrangling a stack of Bibles outside the church and studiously ignores him. But later Tore interrupts one of their rehearsals, wanting to sing along. His cousin tries to rebuff him, the kinder members of the congregation try to appease him with a sugar bun, but Daniel hears his vocalizations as harmonious and decides to let him into the group.

The exact nature and origin of Tore’s disabilities are not delved into (nor is his story told in the film), but perhaps that is because Tore is the most self-actualized member of the budding choir. While the others must confront their internal and external demons to find their authentic voice, Tore’s emotions are laid bare for all to see. When an angry boyfriend bursts into the rehearsal room to punish his girlfriend for some imagined infraction, Tore wets his pants. The anger of the group is inexplicably directed towards Tore instead of the abusive man. But Lena stands up for him, shouting “Haven’t you ever wet your pants?” and reminding them that their duty is to stand against the bully. As is usual with groupthink, the emotions of the group turn on a dime towards acceptance for Tore. Lena leads Tore to the bathroom to get him cleaned up; this is clearly recognized by Tore as an act of love. (Daniel’s love is thus cemented as well.) Later in the film when Lena storms out one day, angry at Daniel, it is Tore’s agitated hollering that propels him forward, against his nature, to go after her.

Tore may not be able to form words very well, but once accepted by the choir he becomes an integral part. He is seen joyously playing on improvised drums and keeping time with a whistle. He is included in their celebrations and an expensive trip to Germany to compete in the “Let the People Sing” competition. Lena explains to Daniel that she sees angel wings on Tore and on him, and can see them on others if she tries hard enough.

When Daniel doesn’t show for the choir’s big performance, Tore is unable to hide his apprehension. He buries his head in Lena’s shoulder and stamps his feet, alerting the audience and judges to their tension. The choir begins harmonizing to calm him, the audience joins in, and a flight of angels sings Daniel to his rest.


A murder rocks a South Korean town and suspicion quickly falls on a reclusive, mentally challenged — and alibi-free — young man (Bin Won). When an inept public defender botches the boy’s case, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) sets out to prove her son’s innocence. Acclaimed director Joon-ho Bong (Memories of Murder) explores the lengths a mother will go to protect her child in this atmospheric crime thriller.

Mother has English captions and subtitles, and is also available in Blu-ray format.