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The Shipping News

Lasse Hallström
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore
Length: 111 minutes
Rated: R
Studio: Buena Vista Home Video

In this sensitive adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s novel, director Hallstrom once again shows us the power of community and belonging (see, My Life as a Dog, Cider House Rules). Quoyle, played by Kevin Spacey, is a lonely, unworldly, fearful, and sweet man with a history of being treated poorly, starting with his unloving father. He so wants to be loved, to be a part of something. He falls hard for a woman, Petal, who works him over and treats him like dirt, but who gives him a daughter, Bunny, whom he loves and cares for. His father, even to his dying day, treats him like a nobody, and after his parents commit suicide, his father’s sister, Agnes, shows up and witnesses the hardships Quoyle is experiencing. Petal is killed in an auto accident around the same time, and Bunny, who was with Petal at the time, was sold for $6000 to a child auctioneer.

Once Bunny is returned to Quoyle, Agnes decides it is time for all of them to move to Newfoundland, the home of their ancestors. Agnes is a strong woman who believes you can’t walk around your fears. Quoyle, rudderless, goes along with the idea.

In Newfoundland, they head straight to the old family homestead, which overlooks the raging sea, open to fierce winds and weather. Though it is neglected and dilapidated, they camp there and eventually start to fix it up. In the meantime, Quoyle, whose only work skill is as a typesetter, lands a job at the “Gammy Bird,” the local newspaper, as a journalist whose responsibilities include writing up at least one crash per week, and the news of ship traffic into the local harbor. The newspaper is owned by a waterman who takes a mentor-like role with Quoyle…the beginning of Quoyle’s transformation.

Quoyle’s self esteem builds, but not without working through bad dreams, missteps, and fears. Yet he stays open and present, and discovers new places within himself. He learns about his family history, and the ghosts of the past. The pieces start coming together. He writes some good articles for the GAMMY BIRD. He meets a lovely woman, Wavey Pruett, who has secrets of her own. His daughter begins to make a friend with Harry, Pruett’s special son. The water, the wind, the people, the newspaper work, and the place where his kin started their lives all conspire to help Quoyle get more comfortable with himself, see possibility for the first time in his life, and to feel love and friendship as well.

While the film may sound difficult and morose, I assure you it is not. It is uplifting, beautifully acted and photographed, and it leaves you feeling the importance of love, community, and a sense of belonging..


  1. The Newfoundland community is somewhat private, yet authentic and quietly welcoming. How would you describe your community? Is it nurturing, compassionate, supportive, empowering – or the opposite?
  2. What is your role within that community?
  3. Quoyle had many fears – fear of the water, fear of change, making a decision, asking for help, looking stupid, sharing his voice. What has helped you face your fears? When you have faced your fears, what has happened?
  4. Have you ever experienced the power of support and unconditional love? What about that do you remember? To what extent did it bring out the best in you?
  5. Newfoundland is presented as a place where rugged is a way of life. The sense of place in this film is powerful. When have you noticed the power of place in your life? What place does ‘place’ have in your life?

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