The Corner

About About Schmidt–a Reader Begs to Differ

A reader: “ABOUT SCHMIDT was one of those awful sneering looks at

Midwestern American values. Similar in philosophy to AMERICAN BEAUTY,

another odious film, it portrays people like the Jack Nicholson character as

empty buffoons who don’t get it, who haven’t the capacity to get it. Schmidt

spent his life doing what most of us do, he worked, married, raised a

family, did service to his employer and community, and then found it all

coming to a satisfying close toward the end of his life. Except this movie

would have you believe that it was all for nothing, that his life was always

empty and meaningless and this clod couldn’t even discern its emptiness

until the end when he was done with most of it and outside the envelope

looking in.

“A lot of conservatives will watch a movie like this and are pleasantly

struck with the characters, who seem to resemble themselves, or people they

know, and it never occurs to them that the writer and director are bubbling

over with loathing for the Neanderthals they portray on the screen. You are

dead on right about Hollywood being extraordinarily good at what they do;

ABOUT SCHMIDT is just another in a long line of anti-normal, anti-middle

class value films. I watched it and was insulted.”

I [this is Derb here] think this reader is totally wrong, at least about

this particular movie. He provides, in fact, a good example of not knowing

when to check your ideology at the door as you go in.

The Nicholson character is the outsider here. If there is any social

commentary going on–and I don’t think there is, much–it is to contrast the

Soviet-style job-for-life dullness of Schmidt, toiling away thanklessly in a

vast organization, with the more free-spirited frontier-American attitudes

of his daughter and son-in-law. (Who, be it noted, live 500 miles to his


The “Neanderthals” in ABOUT SCHMIDT–Nicholson’s daughter, her husband, her

in-laws–are grotesques, but only in the mild way that Charles Dickens’s

characters are. That is, they are drawn with much affection; and to the

degree that the movie is an argument between Schmidt and them, the movie

leaves no doubt–in my mind, at any rate–that they get the better of the

argument. I laughed at these people, but I did not find myself disliking

them, and don’t believe I was meant to.

I do agree that AMERICAN BEAUTY was a horrible anti-normality film–the

psycho ex-Marine, the so-o-o-o well-adjusted homosexual couple, and so on.

ABOUT SCHMIDT was, however, nothing like that. It was a movie about a guy

having a late-life crisis. If the Rosie Derbyshire interpretation of the

ending (she claims he was smiling through his tears) is correct, Schmidt

found his peace at last through (a) all those interactions with ordinary

people, and (b) a small act of private charity. What, exactly, is

anti-bourgeois about that?

If the daughter and her husband had been stoned hippies, or the same sex, or

something else “transgressive,” then I’d concede the reader’s point. As it

is, I won’t. Great movie. I did not actually say that it was a

conservative movie, and I don’t actually think its “social” aspect will

bear that much weight, but I think a case might be made.

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