This week, the 2nd half of the summer semester for my movie class began and we saw the drama “Still Mine”, starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold.
When an elderly farmer tries to build a new house on his land to better care for his wife suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, he falls victim to his town’s bureaucracy – but will he be able to complete his project or will it be bulldozed before he can finish?
Octogenarians Craig (Cromwell) and Irene (Bujold) have spent the decades carving out a living for themselves the hard way – as a couple of Canadian farmers who have raised seven children. Unfortunately, old age is creeping up on them and soon, Craig finds his wife is experiencing increasingly frequent incidents of senility. When Irene almost accidentally burns down their house, Craig realizes something must be done immediately.
After discussing the situation with his children, he quickly dismisses any consideration of putting his wife in a home and instead decides that he can better care for her himself if they lived in a smaller house – with that, Craig decides to build a cottage on a tiny stretch of the 2,000 acres of farmland he owns. However, in the many years since he built his current house, he finds the local government in the town in which he lives has enacted many new rules, regulations and fees. Confused and frustrated by all of red tape, he proceeds with construction anyway because he realizes that time is of the essence, given that Irene’s condition is gradually deteriorating, putting her well being at great risk.
When Craig ignores the town’s Stop Work Order on his new home, that’s when the lawyers are brought in and things get increasingly complicated – not to mention expensive. Having to meet with the lawyers takes away from time he could be spending finishing the new house. Meanwhile, Irene is getting substantially worse – after various episodes, she suffers a bad fall and winds up in the hospital with a broken hip, which will result in a long stay followed by weeks of physical therapy as she is trained in the use of a walker. During this time, Craig’s case makes the town’s newspapers; despite all of the media attention, the town’s building department brings him to court anyway. Will the judge allow him to finish construction or will the new house be demolished?
A delicate, fragile movie, “Still Mine” can be seen as either a humanistic or political drama – if not both – depending on your perspective. Humanistic in the sense that it is about dealing with one of life’s many great indignities – aging and the associated resulting problems. Political in the sense that it is a story about the individual versus the big, unwieldy and uncaring government. At its core, however, it is above all a love story about a long-time married couple that have grown old together and are still very much dedicated to taking good care of each other.
That said, some might find a couple of scenes slightly uncomfortable to view – for one thing, Cromwell is briefly nude when entering an outdoor shower; also, husband and wife have a sex scene that could make certain people squirm just a bit (thankfully, however, it’s neither long nor graphic). But then again, hey, if you’re open minded and aren’t turned off to geezer love, then you likely won’t have any issues with this. I also found “Still Mine” to be an excellent choice for a title because after seeing the film, you realize it can refer to a great many things that the lead characters would insist are “still mine” – my spouse, my life, my land, my dignity … you get the idea…
Following the screening, our instructor interviewed one of the film’s stars, the great James Cromwell. If you ever get the chance to hear Cromwell speak or be interviewed, by all means, go for it – he happens to be one of the all-time spellbinding raconteurs, sharing many fascinating stories from his life both in an out of acting. Cromwell said he was very thankful to Norman Lear, creator of the legendary television situation-comedy “All In The Family”. Lear gave Cromwell his big break, casting him as Archie Bunker’s co-worker, Stretch Cunningham. He said that the casting came about as a result of a salary dispute between Lear and the show’s star Carroll O’Connor (who played Archie Bunker); upon reaching something of an impasse, Lear notified O’Connor that they were going to kill off Archie and replace him with a character played by Cromwell – shortly thereafter, there was a resolution. O’Connor returned to work, but Cromwell still appeared in a number of episodes as his co-worker Cunningham.