Nostalgia

John Ortiz plays Daniel the insurance guy. He knows he’s talking to you on the worst day of your life. He knows you don’t want to talk to him. Whether you’ve been robbed or had a fire or lost a loved one, he’s the guy who helps you determine what you’ve lost, what you still have, and how much it’s all worth. But insurance guys stop at the dollar value. What, really, are those objects worth to you?

Nostalgia explores grief, loss, memory, and our attachment to the things in our lives. The movie hosts several vignettes that help unpack this notion of the valuable item. An old man (Bruce Dern) is dying, and believes his home is filled with nothing but trash. A widow (Ellen Burstyn) suffers a fire and saves only one item, one she prizes only because it was once important to her dead husband, and clashes with her grown son (Nick Offerman) over keeping it. A brother (Jon Hamm) and sister (Catherine Keener) sift through their late father’s possessions ahead of selling his now empty house. Some nostalgia_09people want to keep everything, even if they cannot bear to look at it. Some people want to toss everything, keep only memories. There is no right answer. Toughest of all, the movie also explores the notable difference between losing an elderly father and discovering the hand-written love notes he once sent your mother while traveling on business, and losing your teenage daughter and discovering that without her passwords you have no access to any of the dozens of pictures she took every day of her short life.

This movie takes on some tough subjects and inevitably it’s not always a comfortable watch. It can be challenging, but only because it touches our own raw nerves. It’s also surprisingly beautiful, as if with flaring sunlight director Mark Pellington wants to cleanse us of the heaviness we might otherwise take from one tile of the mosaic to another.

This movie made me think and feel. It’s a meditation more than a narrative, a sense of melancholy meant to wash over you. Sometimes it’s maddeningly vague but it’s also expertly acted (Keener and Burstyn are of course favourites and stand-outs). There are quiet gaps meant to be filled with your own reminiscence. You will surely relate to one ore more of the vignettes.

When we think of fire or flood threatening our homes, we think also of which valuables we’d grab if we had the time. There are two kinds of valuables: we’d grab the ones worth the most money, like the jewelry, and we’d grab the ones worth the most sentiment, like the photos. But later, sifting through the ashes, would you have regrets? Would you miss the pots and pans you’ve used to lovingly feed your family for the past thirty years? Would you miss the wallpaper you painstakingly picked out and pasted up with blood, sweat, and tears? What items are worth saving, and what items are worth leaving to someone else? What are YOUR valuables, the ones you hope to pass on, or the ones that have been left to you?

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15 thoughts on “Nostalgia

  1. Katrina Morrison

    Beautifully written Jay πŸ’•… you really have me thinking … For me, people then pets come first and foremost; then, nothing is worth risking my life for in case of a fire. Things can be replaced and new pics and mementos can be made. Old, lost pics and mementos are always stored in our hearts and in our memories anyway. I look forward to seeing Nostalgia 😊

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    1. Jay Post author

      I have a friend who lost her dog in a housefire. It was horrible for her of course and has made it an all-too accessible fear of mine ever since, too easily pictured.

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  2. Willow Croft

    I do actually thing about this. In Florida, we had a lot of hurricanes. Not sure what I would take. I like to think I would have just taken my cats and my car and left. But then I start looking around. Do I take my original Cure Disintegration poster (framed)? Do I take the unicorn poster that I’ve had since I was a little girl? Do I take my own artwork and art pieces? Do I take my scrapbooks filled with drawings from friends, mementos, mix cassette tapes from friends back in the day, my signed Cure ticket stub, flyers from Faith and the Muse concerts, my original Cure tapes and my 120 Minutes cassette tape, my Secret of Nimh lunchbox from when I was a kid, et al? Next thing you know, my car is imaginarily loaded with everything I own. *wry laugh*

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, your car is going to be loaded down…and not with stuff that’s very practical, I’m afraid. But I think you have to take your art, at the very least.
      I have boxes and boxes of stuff I call “precious memories” but I’m not sure how much of it is really all that important. The stuff from my little nephews, anyway.

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  3. Widdershins

    It would depend on the catastrophe, of course … but ‘things’ can be replaced. I would miss a great many things in and of my life, but the one thing that would break my heart if I lost it (in a housefire situation for example) would be the external hard drive that I back up EVERYTHING on. Blog posts, manuscripts, photos, etc. πŸ™‚ … I also have other backup platforms but this is my ‘bottom line’ one.

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  4. calensariel

    This actually sounds really good and poignant since we’re at that place in our lives where we’re starting to downsize to save the kids work later and some things we don’t know how to let go of. Might be inspirational…

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