Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis
Length: 124 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
About Schmidt is a quietly powerful movie that I think all coaches should see.
It is a masterful, subtle portrayal of a man who has lost
his dreams; a visual commentary on the consequences of losing contact with the self; a study of bitterness, and
the redemptive power of connection.
Warren Schmidt, brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson, is
retiring from a long career as an insurance executive. While those around him are celebrating his success, he is besieged, it seems, by feelings of despair. The world is
happy for him, his wife is anxious to get their new life rolling in a large motorized camper, and he is down, down, down. He is no longer in love with his wife, who irritates
him to no end; his daughter is marrying someone he cannot stand; and it appears that he has not thought much about creating a future for himself. He is ripe for transformation.
Three things happen early in the movie that set him on a
new path. First, he begins corresponding with a foster child he adopts through a charitable organization, a young African boy, Ndugu, who is 6 years old. He writes
amazingly long letters to this boy, about topics that the boy could never understand, and mails them off, each letter a start on a cathartic journey of expressing pent up
feelings of anger, disappointment, resentment. Second, his wife dies suddenly, which upends his life in many ways. He is a palpable bundle of mixed feelings. He cannot
care for himself well. He tries talking his daughter into staying with him and not marrying her fiancé, but she will have none of it. The third event is the straw that broke
the proverbial camel’s back. One day while Schmidt is cleaning out his wife’s closet, he finds a batch of love letters to her from none other than his best friend.
Schmidt confronts his friend, and this event constitutes a
watershed. Schmidt now has energy again, and takes off in his motor home to visit old landmarks in his life, and he eventually ends up in Colorado for his daughter’s wedding.
Despite his ‘fight’ response – he still tries talking her into not marrying – he cannot control her and ends up alone. There are a few comical scenes on this journey. As a
viewer I appreciated them – they were one sign that Warren Schmidt was waking from his sleepwalk.
Returning home, Schmidt enters his old home with a
different energy than with which he left. As he is going through his mail, the final scene brings it all together, and of course, we can’t reveal that here. Suffice it to say
that he “gets it” and we end our journey with Warren Schmidt, feeling very touched and incredibly hopeful.
Questions for Reflections
- Schmidt was a ‘company man.’ To what extent has
work taken over your life? If you work more than you live, is that by design or default?
- To what extent is your identity tied to your work?
- What attention do you pay to other parts of life,
like, your relationships, your dreams, your community?
- We are all the heroes of our own story. Schmidt’s
hero was a hero-in-defeat. What transformed his story to that of hero-in-victory?
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