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Ernest Harden Jr.,
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It's August. Like they have most summers, elderly widowed sisters Libby Strong and Sarah Webber, who live in Philadelphia, are staying together in the family's summer cottage on an island off the coast of Maine. The cottage, which now belongs to Sarah, has been in their family most of their lives, was the family's summer getaway from Philadelphia when they were younger. There are a few people who have been friends or acquaintances on the island, including the outspoken Tisha Dought, and Joshua Brackett. Someone new at least to Sarah's social circle is Mr. Maranov, a former Russian aristocrat. His stay on the island is threatened when his landlady, Hilda Partridge, passes away. Sarah and Libby have come to the realization they are in the respective twilight of their lives, Sarah, who still keeps busy and wants to savor life's pleasures, acts as now sightless, cantankerous and bitter Libby's caregiver. Sarah knows she can no longer take care of Libby. As such, Sarah has to make ...Written by
When Sarah and Mr. Maranov go onto the porch to look at the moon, there is a yellow, moon-like orb in the sky behind him, although the moon, judging from the light, is in front of them. Moreover, the sky behind Mr. Maranov is pitch black while the sky off the ocean is light. See more »
Lindsay Anderson's The Whales of August stars silent film legend Lillian Gish, in her 95th year, and Bette Davis, 79, as widowed sisters, one warm and supportive, the other cold and cantankerous, who have been coming to a small cottage on the Maine seacoast for sixty years. Every August, they watch the journey of the whales passing in the nearby waters together but the sense is that this may be their last summer together. Knowing that their time is limited, the siblings attempt to resolve long-standing differences but face many obstacles. The Whales of August takes place during the course of a single day and the camera stays mostly inside the house except to follow the sisters on occasional walks to the ocean. It all sounds static but there is a great deal of emotion churning beneath the surface.
Libby (Davis) is nearly blind and very difficult to live with, always talking about how her life is over. Her sister Sarah (Gish) on the other hand is the polar opposite. She is sweet in her sisterly devotion to taking care of Libby and avoiding getting drawn into her moods (she always calls her dear). She brushes her hair, fixes breakfast for her, gets her clothes together and tends to the garden. "Busy, busy, busy" is how Libby talks about her and irritatingly calls her Say-rah throughout the film. Ms. Davis looks gaunt but her face shows a strength that is as craggy as the seacoast rocks. The film also features Vincent Price as Mr. Maranov, a down on his luck but charming Russian refugee whom Libby suspects is trying to worm his way in with them, and Haray Caray, Jr. as Joshua Brackett, a handyman who is forever making a racket in the house.
Also featured is Ann Sothern as Trish, a friend and neighbor who is close to convincing Sarah to leave Libby's care to her daughter until she remembers how Libby supported her when her own husband died. Sarah draws every ounce of emotion from a lovely scene in which she celebrates her 46th wedding anniversary by having an imaginary conversation with Philip, her long deceased husband. "Forty-six years, Phillip", she tells him. "Forty-six red roses; forty-six white. White for truth--red for passion. That's what you always said - passion and truth; that's all we need. I wish you were here, Phillip." Another moving sequence is when Libby brushes her face with a lock of her husband's hair while sitting alone in her bedroom.
I had heard that The Whales of August was little more than a vehicle for two aging stars to sing their swan song; however, I found the screenplay by David Berry to gracefully complement the performances with an emotional honesty that captures the truth of the characters. Not a great deal happens in The Whales of August but that is often true of life. It is a gentle and civilized character study that lets us know it is never too late to bury long-standing grievances and open a picture window to possibility. It may be elegant and old fashioned in its style but it has a grace and beauty that is timeless.
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