NORTHFORK is a weird, sometimes pretentious, allegorical fantasy about a Midwest town being evacuated because the government is building a new dam that will flood the area. The movie has a strong spiritual weight to it, including some biblical and Christian references, but its premise is a bit murky. It’s doubtful that many viewers will want to penetrate the murk.
Set in 1955, the movie stars James Woods as Walter O’Brien, a black-garbed government agent who’s traveling with his son, Willis, to convince the remaining townsfolk to leave before the dam drowns their property. Nick Nolte also stars as Farther Harlan, a kindly but irascible cleric running a small church and an orphanage who’s taking care of Irwin, a dying, bedridden orphan boy abandoned by his adoptive parents. Walter and Willis run into a man who’s built an ark, filling it with two stuffed animals of various species along with his two wives. As Walter and his son try to convince the man and his wives that the ark may not be able to float, Irwin has dreams about encountering four angels in one of the houses. Irwin tries to convince the angels that he is “the unknown angel” for whom they’ve long been searching.
This short synopsis barely scratches the surface of the spiritual references in NORTHFORK. For instance, Walter, Willis, and the other government evacuators consider themselves earthbound angels helping the townspeople to “fly to higher ground.” They even present a pair of white wings as a gift to those people who agree to leave. Walter also carries a Jesus crucifix hanging on the mirror of his big black government car. At one point in the movie, Patsy Cline sings about Jesus in “A Closer Walk with Thee.”
Despite all of the heavy symbolism, which also includes references to non-religious things like the destruction of America’s pioneer spirit by the wheels of progress, NORTHFORK lacks much point to its story. At first, it appears that Irwin is just having a fevered dream about the angels, but this possibility is abrogated when Walter and Willis eventually visit the same house, and Walter has a brief vision of the four angels. Of course, the movie seems to have a lot to do with the subject of death. Except, however, for Father Harlan’s comment near the end that he is no longer afraid of death, it’s hard to know what exactly the movie is trying to say about the subject. Perhaps the filmmakers just want their movie to be experienced rather than interpreted.
NORTHFORK is written by Mark and Michael Polish, who made TWIN FALLS, IDAHO where they actually played Siamese twins. Michael directs the movie in washed out colors, giving the majestic mountains towering behind the town of NORTHFORK an Ansel Adams feel. This quality adds to the sense of death and loss that permeates this curious movie, which also has some winsome, humorous moments.
NORTHFORK also contains some foul language and a scene where two of the government evacuators walk in on a nearly fully clothed couple kissing passionately on a bed. Beyond that, its cryptic references to angels, the Bible, and Jesus Christ provoke a cautious attitude toward the ultimate worth of this movie. In fact, NORTHFORK seems full of puzzling connotations that evade rational explanation. This may confuse people who lack true theological knowledge.
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SUMMARY: NORTHFORK is a weird, sometimes pretentious, allegorical fantasy about a Midwest town being evacuated because the government is building a new dam. In addition to some foul language and brief passionate kissing, NORTHFORK’s cryptic references to the Bible and Jesus Christ provoke a cautious attitude toward its ultimate worth.
(Ro, CC, BB, FR, Ab, LL, S, N, D, M) An apparently Romantic worldview, with some cryptic Christian and biblical symbolism, including cleric prays to God to take dying, suffering child and quotes biblical passage about Noah and the Flood as well as some possible false religious notions about angels and dying and one angel’s name, Cod, sounds like “God,” which may confuse viewers; nine obscenities and two strong profanities; man fires shotgun several times at government agents, image of construction explosion on dirt in order to build dam, and man falls; men walk in on clothed couple passionately kissing; brief partial rear nudity; no alcohol use; smoking; and, father and son argue about excavating mother’s gravesite and man has two wives.