Hearts in Atlantis May 19, 2020 9:32:18 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on May 19, 2020 9:32:18 GMT -5
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Directed by: Scott Hicks
Directed by: Scott Hicks
Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) plays the harmonica before Carol (Mika Boorem) one sleepy morning in Hearts in Atlantis.
Hearts in Atlantis opens with Robert Garfield (David Morse) returning to his childhood home in New England on a typically dreary, overcast day. Walking through the abandoned quarters, he reflects on his childhood, specifically the summer of 1960, when he was 11-years-old. In hindsight, it was the summer where his innocence was lost in the most unconventional ways, and he finally became conscious of his situation and the unfairness of the world despite clinging to his youth the best he could.
The story then transports us back in time to that fateful period. Bobby, played by the late Anton Yelchin, lives in the aforementioned home with his widowed mother (Hope Davis), who is too often more interested in herself than her son. For Bobby's birthday, instead of the bike he's been wanting, she gifts him an "adult library card;" we're led to believe she went this route since most of her money went to lining her closet. Bobby's main priority is spending time with Carol (Mika Boorem), a cute local girl with whom he shares a mutual affection. The two spend their days reading and hanging out at the creek. Seeing their bond for just a few moments tells you all you need to know: they bring out the best in one another.
Enter Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), an elderly drifter who claims the loft above them. "I never trust a man who carries his possessions in grocery bags," says Bobby's mother, as Ted approaches carrying merely a handful of belongings. He's friendly but notably reserved, but strikes up an amiable friendship with Bobby, and later offers him a dollar a day to read him the morning paper. Ted has a unique ability, a bit like a psychic. Bobby has a similar ability, albeit far less developed. Ted informs Bobby of "low men," who are after him because of his gift, and he tells him to remain alert in case they show up. More on them later.
The relationship between Bobby and Ted is a loving one, like a grandfather and grandson. Ted brings Bobby a source of comfort in a world that's changing rapidly (Nixon controversy and J. Edgar Hoover's abuse of power populate the headlines Bobby reads to him every morning). Bobby may only be 11-years-old, but if you can remember back that far in your own case, that's one of the tricky ages of childhood. It's when you find yourself at the crossroads of being aware of turmoil around you despite not always being sure how to process it and cope. Couple that with a selfish mother who provides almost no nurturing whatsoever and it's only logical Bobby connects with Ted so closely, even beyond their mutual powers.
Based on the novella "Low Men in Yellow Coats" from Stephen King's collection Hearts in Atlantis from 1999, Scott Hicks' masterful drama is a mood piece at its core. It harbors a plethora of low-key, ostensibly ordinary moments featuring characters bonding and enjoying the simple pleasures of life, yet it's those very simplicities that bring out the deceptively deep undertones within.
Hearts in Atlantis features some endearingly sweet moments I won't soon forget. Ted explains to the clearly disappointed Bobby that his new library card has more purpose than he initially sees; it permits him to explore some of the most brilliant writers in the world. Ted later tells Bobby a story of the great Chicago Bears fullback Bronko Nagurski, who came out of retirement on his last legs, put the team on his back, and led the Bears to victory over the Chicago Cardinals to advance to the 1943 NFL Championship Game, which they would also win. Bobby, too, meets a woman at a poolhall in the city, where Ted takes him so he himself can place a bet on an upcoming fight. These moments might not mean much to you, but they do to Bobby, who is starved for compassion from the adults in his life.
Then there's the Ferris wheel set-piece, which was so nostalgic and beautiful it nearly made my eyes well. Bobby and Carol have a seat to themselves and get anxious when the ride inevitably pauses while they are suspended in mid-air. Bobby sees his opportunity to kiss Carol; a kiss by which all the others down the line will be judged, as Ted informed him earlier. His first kiss has her a tad confused, but she calls for a do-over and there's a spark the second time around. Sometimes things don't go as smoothly the first time, and that's okay. The scene ends with the ride resuming motion and Carol leaning backwards into Bobby's embrace as the ride careens down. Poetry in motion, to say the least.
How you interpret who or what the "low men" are is up to you. They appear to be agents of some sort, perhaps planning to use Ted's gifts for some covert operation. The film doesn't get tangled in a web of plausibility articulating them and neither should you. In my view, they work as a metaphor for the scary adult-world closing in on gifted yet innocent souls. Either way, they're bound to catch up with Ted at some point, and in the meantime, all he can do is enjoy the pleasures of life, such as playing a harmonica on the porch or enjoying a Chesterfield at the kitchen table. Getting to know Bobby and provide him some comfort is a plus too.
Hearts in Atlantis isn't your typical Stephen King fare insofar that it isn't explicitly a horror story. It's essentially an amalgam of The Shining — specifically the relationship between Danny Torrance and Dick Hallorann — and Stand By Me, for its intimate depiction of childhood innocence. There's a disquieting aura in the film. You're able to sense Bobby's eroding innocence and his own self-realization that he's very alone and isolated. Fear and angst lingers on the outskirts, slowly closing in as the threat of the low men becomes increasingly more real, with the safety of one of Bobby's only true confidants in the world at risk. Credit to esteemed screenwriter William Goldman for emphasizing nuance and mood all while establishing a strong bunch of characters through dialog.
Much like life, if you allow yourself to slow down, put your mind at ease, and welcome in the subtleties and beauty within, you should emerge appreciating the finer details of Hearts in Atlantis. It's one of the best Stephen King adaptations I've yet to see.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, and David Morse. Directed by: Scott Hicks.