Friday, April 14, 2006


Nick Nolte stars as Father Harlan, in Northfork. Here, he bears witness to young Irwin's death.

Northfork is a magical film about the death of a town and the death of young Irwin, an angel, according to Father Harlan.

Today in my Native American Literature class, we read aloud two essays by Native-American Linda Hogan, from her book of essays called Dwellings. One essay, "Stories of Water" is about the creative and destructive force of water and how humbling it is to be in the presence of such power.

Reflecting on the class later, as I'm prone to do, I remembered Northfork. The film is named for the town, which is to be flooded, lost to technological progress. As the town nears extinction, so does an orphan boy, named Irwin, who, as he slips toward death, has the most precious dreams.

At the end of the film, Father Harlan expresses his sorrow and his acceptance of life's pain. As Hogan speaks of being humbled by earth's power, Father Harlan speaks of being humbled in the presence of death. The impending death of the town, the death of Irwin. Water will cover all. There's something truly Biblical about the story. Nolte's voice is strong and quiet. It cracks with age, but he doesn't sound old. He's saintlike, but also profoundly human. He sounds almost timeless.

Northfork and Dwellings are both works to transport the soul.

Father Harlan: "And in that journey of dying, you see many things. But all of the issues I had are past, because I was to be a witness, a helper. And that is the thing I think is important about death, is the ability for us to be witnesses, not only for a person coming in, but of going out. And that is what we have here–we’ve lost our time, it’s gone. But maybe there is a birth someplace else. Maybe there is a blessing from that experience. I’m no longer afraid of death; but it’s a lesson that has taken me sixty years to learn."


Vicky said...

That was a wonderful film, Theresa. I shall have to see it again - thanks for the reminder.

Water is possibly the most powerful element in our world. It is us. We are it. As it flows, so do we. Our lives both ebb and flow, and we so often shape ourselves to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

We can choose to float or swim, or we can choose to become overwhelmed and drown. But sometimes, the time for choice is over. What a thought-provoking entry.

Wenda said...

I haven't seen Northfork or read Dwellings, but they sound wonderful. As a writer and simply as a human, I believe that witnessing is one of my most sacred responsibilities. Birth, death, pain, joy, cruelty, kindness, and everything between the commas.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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