Twitter-friend Paula is having another round of Future Classic Movies today, with folks making their selections as to what films, from 2000-present, they think will be considered classics in the decades to come. Last month when Paula had this most excellent topic, I chose the 2002 film The Hours. Today, my choice is the 2003's Northfork. I am less certain that it will become a classic, but it definitely should, if there is any justice in the world.
Our movie begins with the premise that the entire town of Northfork must be moved to make way for a new dam. The dam is seen by some as a positive change, a provider of power for the area. Others look upon it as the concrete headstone of Northfork. Most of the residents have been moved away by the government. Where have they all gone? We do not know for sure. A few have stayed, defiant to the end, or are simply too tired to make the trip. One man has built an Ark, and plans to float away once the waters roll across the land. Another, Father Harlan, is staying to help nurse Irwin, a sick little boy whose adoptive parents have returned him to the vicarage.
James Woods, in one of his best, most understated performances, is Walter O'Brien, one of the handful of government agents sent to Northfork in 1955 to help people with abandoning their homes forever. His son, Willis, accompanies him on this somber mission. Willis is an unhappy man, and not just in sympathy with the current citizens facing the town's impending doom. Walter's wife/Willis's mother is buried in the Northfork cemetery, and it's up to her loved ones to move her body lest it become awash in the waters of the dam. This brings to the forefront one of the most poignant storylines of the movie.
Irwin, the little boy from the vicarage, is not doing too well with his illness. Father Harlan (Nick Nolte, in yet another great performance) does what he can for the boy, including making him steaming cups of tea, giving him a Hercules comic to read, and a little toy plane to play with. And, of course, he prays for the child. But is it enough? For we see that there are visitors present inside one of the old abandoned houses on the outskirts of Northfork - four people who are there to determine if little Irwin is the one that they are looking for. As the movie proceeds, the boy's life is in the balance.
Little Irwin communicates with the aforementioned visitors during feverish dreams. These eccentric characters are known as Happy, Cod, Cup of Tea, and Flower Hercules. Their names are reminiscent of some artifacts that inhabit Irwin's real world. And there is a strange wooden horse/dog-like creature that stomps around the abandoned house of the four visitors, and it looks not unlike the head of the cane of Father Harlan. So -- are the four visitors real? Or are they figments of young Irwin's dying mind? If they're not real, then how does Walter O'Brien (James Woods) see them at one point?
Northfork brings up these, and many more unanswerable questions. It provides solutions, but not necessarily answers. If you're looking for a conventional movie, then look elsewhere. If you're looking for something a little deeper, something which makes you think and feel at the same time, and which will stay with you for a long time to come, then watch this film. I guarantee you that you've never seen anything quite like it.
* note: portions of this writing were taken from the review of Northfork that I wrote for Amazon.com, in September 2003.