Northfork is a film of images and meaning. It’s poetry put to pictures. If you take it for face value, then it’s bound to be a confusing, surreal mess. But dreams rarely make sense at the moment where sleep and awake cross paths. You have to stop and ponder the images to figure out what they mean as a whole. And that’s just what Northfork is – a dream. It’s open for interpretation but when you put it against other dream movies, it’s not so tough to figure out. The Polish brothers rebound from their disappointing Jackpot and present something that is beautiful, meaningful and filled with much of their signature deadpan humour. They just make you work to realize the payoff.
Northfork used to be a quiet town in Montana. That was until they built dam and made a lake of the place. A group of strange men in suits have been hired to make sure that all of Northfork’s residents have left their homes before the flood. The central pair are brothers Walter (James Woods) and Willis O’Brien (Mark Polish). One thread of the film follows the two as they make the rounds and encounter Northfork’s citizens. But there’s also another thread to the film that takes place in the dreamscape of Irwin (Duel Farnes), a sick orphan. Irwin’s journey is something straight out of Alice in Wonderland. He emerges in his dream at a house whose inhabitants are an eclectic and eccentric bunch. And with names like Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs), Flower (Daryl Hannah), Happy (Anthony Edwards) and Cod (Ben Foster) you get the idea almost immediately that reality and fantasy are two different beasts in this film. Once you recognize between the two plains of Northfork it makes it a lot easier to interpret, or at the very least figure out what’s going on.
From angels to Bibles to modern arks sitting in the middle of nowhere, there’s a whole lot of Christian symbols going on. The idea of Northfork’s leaders flooding their town shows that progress has gotten to a point where man can not only build, but destroy as well. They can play God. What the Polish brothers are trying to get at is that sometimes destruction is necessary in order to build something better. It’s a cycle and philosophy that transformed North America, and the rest of the developed world for that matter, from small settlements into bustling metropolises and everything in between. But when does progress go too far? How much change is too much? When do then losses equal more than the gains? That is the meditation of Northfork.
Northfork marks the final installment of the Polish brothers’ small-town America trilogy. Their debut feature, Twin Falls, Idaho was a quiet film about two Siamese twins falling in love with the same girl. It established their presence as filmmakers to watch for. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel nearly as strongly about their follow-up, Jackpot (named after Jackpot, Nevada), a search for fame and redemption in the high-stakes world of karaoke. With Northfork, the Polish brothers have returned to form. While it would be easy to simply gawk at the gorgeous and creative cinematography and get lost in the story, they are saying something here. It’s not an easy movie to watch as it isn’t a matter of traveling from point A to point B, but if you give it a chance it’s a rewarding experience that is far from hollow.