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The Longest Ride

Namuth - Pollock.jpg

My recent movie-going experiences include The Longest Ride, an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

I'm not going to talk about the plot, especially, so there's no need for a "spoiler alert." This post concerns a secondary theme of the movie by which I was struck.

A little information about structure and cast will get us there. There are two stories, one framing the other, The frame involves a pair of young lovers, rodeo star Luke Collins (played by Scott Eastwood, Clint's boy) and aspiring art curator Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson). Their story is not especially interesting except that it provides a frame for a better love story.

Luke and Sophia become involved in the life of an old man, Ira Levinson. Ira as the old guy is played by Alan Alda, though Ira as a young man (in flashbacks triggered by readings of old letters) is played by Jack Huston.  Young Ira's beloved, starting in 1940, is a refugee from Austria, Ruth Pfeffer (Oona Chaplin). As I've indicated above,  the Ruth/Ira relationship holds one's interest more successfully than that of Sophia and Luke, though here too, I won't go into the particulars. Suffice it to say that they too represent a good Hollywood mismatched match: a country bumpkin who has lived his life in small town North Carolina and a young enthusiast of modern art from that world center: interwar Vienna.

This gets us to the secondary theme of the movie that stayed with me. In both romances, the woman is engaged with modern art, and in both situations, that baffles the man.

In the greatest-generation romance, their courtship and their years together after the war (oops, a bit of a spoiler there -- yes, he survives the war and returns to Ruth -- he's the old man still alive in the 21st century, after all, so that's pretty much a given anyway) this time coincides with High Modernism. Jackson Pollock and his New York crowd were in these years of the Ira/Ruth Honeymoon inspiring both philistine gibes about how "a child could do that" AND critical raptures by such figures as Clement Greenberg. [That's a famous photo of Pollock at work, above. I'll say something about Pollock and/or Greenberg in a post next weekend.]

But Ira himself, not-especially appreciative bumpkin though he is, and incapable though he is of Greenbergian rapture, doesn't engage in the above referenced sort of gibe, either. He is portrayed both as a gentleman and as deeply in love, and for both of those reasons disinclined to say anything contrary about the non-representational art Ruth loves.

In the present-day romance, the artworks that enthrall Sophia also seem, well, broadly modernist and non-representational.  Yet this is the 21st century, and Luke the bull rider isn't quite so polite about his non-appreciation as was Ira. In an art gallery, speaking to a woman who may soon be Sophia's boss at an internship, he says, "There's more bullshit here than where I work." He complains that he doesn't want to pretend that "squiggles of paint are something more than squiggles of paint."

I would like to think that Luke learns a lesson from Ira, and that at least part of the lesson is to be more open to those 'squiggles' and to what they may mean to those who are fascinated by them, or at least to be more closed-mouth about his own prejudice. Alas, the ending of the movie seems to leave that lesson as one more for us than for him.


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