In my neverending quest to see every good movie ever made, I caught "The Last Picture Show" last night. It was jarring and beautiful- such a low-budget-looking flick with such impressive star power. But what I loved so much about it was that it really spoke to the dilemmas of small-town life that were relevant in the fifties, in the seventies, and remain relevant today. The film captures perfectly how small towns trap young people with a set of limited decisions and no preparation for real life. Even smart kids are more than likely to stay in their hometowns, join the Army, or just get married for the financial security. It happens in small towns today. It happens in my small hometown every day.
We are the rare ones- the ones who make it out and manage to use what few tools our hometowns gave us to hack it in the bigger cities.
My favorite character was the older woman, Cloris Leachman, who takes Sonny as her lover. She is the perfect small-town woman. She tells him that she can't do much of anything without crying about it . . . everything feels disappointing. And there are shots where she (Cloris Leachman!) is sublimely pretty in this eerily tragic kind of way.
The real heartbreak, though, is when Duane leaves for the Army and tells Sonny he'll see him in a year or so, if he doesn't get shot. He delivers this line with such stoicism that you just know he's thought of the options- returning home or getting killed- and both sound equally appealing.
And fifty years later, we're still giving kids that choice, and they are still (though in ever-dwindling numbers) choosing the possibility of becoming a casualty.