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r rated, four moon iconMirimax (DVD-Rom), ASIN: B0000640VK
The Shipping News haunts me. The setting's austerity. The characters' pain, loneliness and victimization. The concept of belonging, whether it be to a family or community. The topic of self worth, finding love, starting over and hope for a better life. And the humor, the ability to laugh at self, at loss, at failure. All of these elements continue to touch me, almost two weeks after watching the video.

DVD: the shipping newsThe opening scene, even while the credits run, establishes the water symbolism that winds throughout the film, speaking of rebirth. We see Quoyle as a child repeatedly fighting to the surface of whatever body of water into which his father throws him. As he ages and turns into a man (Kevin Spacey), his fear of water, of drowning, molds him. And like a drowning man, he continues to struggle against life's adversities, clinging to whatever lifeline he can find. When his adulterous wife, Petal Bear (Cate Blanchett) leaves him, he clings to his child and follows his estranged aunt (Dame Judith Dench) to the land of their ancestors, Newfoundland.

Aunt Agnis carries her own emotional baggage back to this lifeless, isolated rock that protrudes into the cold, threatening ocean. The ancestral house sits alone, bound to the rock with guy wires. Her experiences bind her as strongly to the house as the guy wires. Her actions revolve around the cremated remains of Quoyle's father, her brother. The humor begins with a marvelous scene between Aunt Agnis and the ashes.

Quoyle acclimates, finds a job as a newspaper reporter covering the shipping news -- "ships in, ships out." The newspaper office represents family, complete with a patriarch, editor Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn) and a jealous uncle-figure, Tert X. Card (Pete Postlethwaite). Quoyle finds his niche in this pseudo-family cheered on by his fellow reporters Billy Pretty (Gordon Pinsent) and Nutbeem (Rhys Ifans). But Quoyle's family tree hides grim, crippling secrets.

Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore), a single mother raising a handicapped child, weaves her own story into Quoyle's as they awkwardly attempt to connect. The children bind them together as Quoyle's daughter befriends Wavey's son.

Each scene builds on the former until the movie almost falls apart during the wake scene. I could not suspend belief enough to cover this contrived element, but the moment passes quickly and the movie ends with a satisfying denouement.

Although not completely faithful to E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film's adaptation, under the sensitive direction of Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) develops its own symbolism and themes, coalescing into a haunting depiction of cast-off humanity finding their place in community.

Rhys Ifans supplied an extra treat for me. I've enjoyed his quirky characters since first meeting him in Notting Hill. Here Ifans and his character add another layer of humanity to this life-affirming film.

Dawn Goldsmith

Click here to read Jenny Buehler's review of The Shipping News.

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