October Sky

Why is it so hard for fathers to support their sons? Why are fathers so obsessed with insisting their sons be exactly like them? On the other hand, daddy issues have been extremely fruitful for Hollywood, so…

So yeah. Homer and his dad John don’t get along. John (Chris Cooper) works in a mine like almost all of the men in their mining town do, which is kinda what makes it a mining town, and fully expects his two sons to do the same. It’s the 1950s and mining is actually starting to decline but no one wants to see the writing on the shaft, not yet anyway. It’s pick axes full steam ahead, every third word punctuated with a buckling, phlegmy cough. Except for Homer (Jake Gyllenhaal, still in his puppyhood), a lackluster student who resists his mining fate but doesn’t have a lot of other options. Until the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, is launched into orbit and Homer’s sights turn to the skies. He’s inspired to discover rocketry for himself, and his new passion takes him all the way to the national science fair, but it never wins his father’s approval.

Eep. It’s sad but there you have it: John’s not just disappointed, he’s ashamed. He’s ashamed to have a son who’s “full of himself” because he dreams of something other than a carbon copy of his parents’ life and who’s “wasting his time” teaching himself calculus and physics.

As an inspirational drama, it’s fairly predictable, but October Sky is made better by top quality performances and some real heart, learning seen as a key to a wider world, to more and better choices, for enriching life. It’s kind of a fun notion. For most of us, we’ve grown up taking space travel for granted. Moon landings are ancient history. But for Homer and his friends, it fired up their imaginations; the science followed their ideas, and let them straight to the stars.

6 thoughts on “October Sky

  1. Christopher

    It’s tempting to compare this to Sons And Lovers but I like how nuanced this film is, how it gets into the complexities of life in a small mining town without being patronizing. Homer’s father is sympathetic if not always understandable.
    And I love how they work out how to build their own rockets. It’s like the rockets blowing up on the launchpad sequence in The Right Stuff. It’s on a smaller scale but the film really makes you feel like it’s just as important.

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  2. Tom

    I have a lot of nostalgia for this film. I don’t know why. Maybe the baby-faced Jake Gyllenhaal, whom I didn’t recognize for years until I really started getting interested in this whole Actor A, Director B, Script C stuff.

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