is a film from 2003, directed by Michael Polish
. It is a drama, or a fantasy, or a dream, depending on how you take it.
"You'll know when you smell Death, Willis. You'll know, because you'll say to yourself...'something died in here.'"
In 1955, the town of Northfork, Montana sits placidly on the plains awaiting its quiet destruction. A major hydroelectric dam is on the verge of completion, and when the sluiceways are closed, the water will begin to slowly rise in the valley - submerging Northfork entirely. This film is a story of the last seventy-two hours or so of Northfork, and the story of those few who remain there. Some are defiant, some resigned, some hopeful, some bitter. The Evacuation Teams - pairs of authentic men in Black, who are Ford men as opposed to Chevy men - roam Northfork, seeking to Evacuate the last few residents. They are oath-bound not to compel, but have a stake in the residents' departure. At the same time, the parish priest waits with a sick orphan, hoping that he will be adopted before the town is destroyed or the boy passes away.
Northfork is about death and ending. It is about completion and the lack thereof. If I had to liken it to a book, it reminds me (in its quietude, starkness and sharp contrasts) slightly of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Not in structure, but in tone. There is just enough gone awry in the tale; just enough kept apart from the viewer and from the actors, to bring that divided book into the forebrain.
If you are the type who needs a concrete story with a conventional structure, Northfork will likely disappoint. If you enjoy sharply distinctive cinematography and minimalist storytelling, with allegory preferred over narrative, then you should give it a glance. The quote at the top is telling; veering from the fascinatingly tantalizing to the sharply mundane, it could be the movie itself - a story replete with strange turnings and images. On a bare plain, a few last folks wait in the church to hear the priest's final sermon. It's a few moments before you realize that the back wall of the church is simply missing, and the landscape itself, empty save for a scattering of cattle, provides the backdrop to the pulpit). Two men in sharply-defined black suits wearing Hombergs drive an immaculate black period Ford down a street bordered only by empty squares where, it becomes apparent, entire houses have been simply picked up off the plains and moved away. All structures in this film, in fact, are simply set down on the surface, with no sense of having any form of roots or infrastructure. Dorothy's house was here, before it sailed off towards Oz.
The men drive, at one point, past a representative headstone for the town - a pipe reaching straight up from the ground to the second-floor height, with a bathtub projecting at right-angles out from the top. The house around it is gone. The entire film is about headstones - the dam is the headstone for the town and for people; at one point, the Evacuation Teams stop as they walk through a tunnel inside the dam to lay their hands on a misshapen lump in the wall. We hear, just prior, a radio in one of their cars discussing the workers who lie within the concrete, inevitable casualties of a project of this size.
"Can you feel a heartbeat in there?"
"Hell of a headstone that boy gets."
Also present are the macabre - an androgynous nurturer, a lost angel, a MacGuffin carried by the Evacuation Teams to assist them in their work which almost - perhaps - does it? ...cross the boundary between the worlds. A handless examiner with multilensed spectacles, a mute writer of Scripture named Cod, and a natty person (English, perhaps?) named Cup of Tea - who proffers and drinks same, constantly. An Ark. A man nailed, not to a cross. Sex and death.
Just when you think you've got it pegged, it twists. Dig up a graveyard and leave the empty pits, headstones still sanding on the plain. Tie the whole thing into time with a bright silver DC-3. Remind us in walkthroughs of the machinery that it's all about 'power' - giving it to the people. Watch the three black Fords divide at a fork in the road - one going straight.
And at the end of the movie, the end of the town, the end of so much - what then? For Northfork the town ends as surely as the movie. We're told that from the opening lines.
Is there a space for beginnings?
You'll have to look carefully. I'm not sure I found any. But then, perhaps that isn't the point.
Dir: Michael Polish
Written by: Michael Polish and Mark Polish
Starring, in no particular order:
James Woods (who also produced)
Anthony Edwards (it's so good to see him working film)
Kyle Maclachlan (briefly)