About Schmidt

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     This is written by my teacher for my class in the university.

 THEMES

A film funny and sad at the same time—a tragic-comedy, or a tragedy disguised as comedy.

A character-driven "black comedy," in which every character in the film is beneath us. The film keeps putting everyone down, showing us their weaknesses and eccentricities.

It’s a movie about a man reaching out for some human connection while at the same time ridiculing nearly everyone onscreen. Characters do the most insensitive things without blinking —not because they’re stupid or bad but because they simply don’t know any better. It is therefore a "cautionary comedy."

An end-of-life "road movie." The on-the-road vignettes serve to show how "normal" Schmidt is compared to other people in the Midwest. Just as in life, there is not a lot of plot here.

It’s the story of a man growing up late, but not too late. Or perhaps just starting to grow up: this is more "real life" than "Hollywood"—notice how little Schmidt actually changes as a person. It is a wake-up alert to how one lives their life.

Communication
A main theme in the film is miscommunication or simply lack of communication. Part of this is due to the personalities of the individual characters, but a larger part is also due to the ‘personality’ of American Midwest culture.

People use polite conversation to avoid really saying anything, when saying something genuine becomes difficult. (This is the tatemae of Midwestern American "friendliness," filling uncomfortable silences with a lot of nothing, often with a clichéd, automated, sugar-coated tone.)

This type of speech occurs during just about every uncomfortable exchange in the film. The overall effect of this is the realization that no one is saying what they really mean in an attempt to maintain some sort of decorum. Appropriate responses and politeness are valued more than honesty.

The mirror-image public speeches at the start and end of the movie:
     1) the ritual retirement dinner, with hilariously terrible, clichéd speeches—an excruciating  affair of insincere politeness.
     2) Warren’s wedding speech—also insincere. This has been interpreted in two ways:
          a) his awful realization that he can’t prevent their life of deception and disappointment (like his own marriage all over again), and
          b) his recognition that to speak the truth at the wedding would be very selfish, so instead he’s dishonest, but out of love. Every word is insincere, but intended to heal, console, and make life bearable.

Time
Schmidt lives his life by the clock (notice the clocks in the film.) But retirement and his wife’s death take away the time structures in his life.

"Life is short"—"I can’t afford to waster another minute"—"Don’t dilly-dally!" It is possible to run out of time. But is it ever "too late" to change, to do something about one’ e life?

 

CHARACTERS

The Midwest
This central part of the United States and the type of people who live there are an important "character" in the film. The land is shown as a gray, barren place (the ground and people’s souls go unwatered). It is also dreary and flat (like the people), with gaudy interiors, populated by kooky, irritatingly small -minded folk who speak in strings of clichés. This is Middle America, the "fly-over states," the "Silent Majority" of Americans. Here, everyday life is banal and boring. There is an atmosphere of hopelessness. Retirements and marriages are celebrated in chain restaurants to the tune of chain homilies.

The movie shows the American vernacular (common language) of ritual insincerity, stupefied testimonials, and mindless bromides. It spotlights the strangeness of and the monotony of modern living. (Omaha, Nebraska, Schmidt’s home, is best cattle slaughterhouses.)

The Schmidts
Middle-class, well-behaved, quietly uncommunicative (Omaha, Nebraska stereotype)

Warren
An "old geezer," just retired, and for most of the film a widower.

An ordinary "everyman," alienated and boring, beaten down by life, flat, repressed (holding in his feelings, especially anger), with no hobbies or interests aside from work, fastidiously uptight, a straightlaced man with rigid composure and perpetually tight lips (a Type-A personality: workaholic, by-the-clock conformist).

A slave to routine: his life has been all about routines, but now he has to face life without the things he had depended on — his wife…and his job (which kept him safely away from his wife!)

Lonely and alone: he has "made his bed and is only too willing to lie in it." Hypochondriac and self-pitying, he expects to get love without giving any in return. He has grown accustomed to his isolation and habits, even as he has grown resentful of them (for example, he can’t stand certain things about his wife, but can’t imagine life without her.)

He has disdain (scorn) for most people he meets, although he doesn’t express this (except in the letters). He is displeased wight everything—he rails against the "young punk" who replaced him, his "nincompoop" future son-in-law, the "old woman" (his wife)—so he is displeased with LIFE.

He is a narcissist, without being actively selfish: there is nothing  that he wants and nothing he lacks that he cares about. Nevertheless, he is totally self-centered. He is "clueless" about American society and others" he doesn’t know how to read, respond to , or treat other people; he’s only aware of his own desires and needs.

He comes to believe himself to be a failure (as a worker, husband, father) and makes it his redeeming mission to "rescue" his daughter (who doesn’t want to be rescued) from a bad marriage in order to finally do some good.

Helen
A small, overbearing, woman—pudgy, frumpy, dowdy, obtuse, unobservant, haughty, domineering bossy, bickering, nagging, long-suffering, henpecking.

(Why isn’t Warren excited by the idea of trips in the camper? Because he’d have to spend every waking hour with his wife—something he’s never done.)

Jeannie
Dour, mousy, shrewish.

Warren talks to her as if she were still and obedient little girl, but he no longer has that sort of power over her. She blows him off (dismisses him) several times in the movie. She resents that he was always working and was never emotionally available to her or interested enough in her life when she was growing up.

Why is she marrying Randall? Perhaps she appreciates his non-judgmental support—the kind she never got from her father.

The Hertzels
A grotesque, loud and dysfunctional family—coarse, boozy, boorish, vulgar, blue-collar, aging hippy, bohemian-trash in-laws (a Denver, Colorado stereotype)

Randall
Jeannie’s vapid, cliché-spouting, but doting fiancé.

A "complete nincompoop," air-head, boob, buffoon, dim-bulb, dolt, doofus, fraud, moron, ponytailed idiot, rube, underachiever: cheesy, flaky, goofy, mediocre, simpleminded, stupid.
Warren doesn’t like Randall because he is "beneath" his daughter (in class and intelligence) but partly also because, in his mediocrity, Randall seems to be heading down he same road as Warren himself.

Roberta
Randall’s overly libidinous mother.

Lewd sexpot, earthy, oversexed, blunt, aging hippy, man-hungry—a fount of touchy-feely aggression.

She has self confidence and ease, yet is selfish under her friendliness, and she lacks any class: bare feet on the table while relaxing, empty paint cans on the lawn, yells at her ex in front of guests, talks openly about her sex life, goes skinny-dipping (naked) in the hot tub.

THE LETTERS

Warren’s letters to Ndugu are his self-centered voiceover commentary on his life and the events in the movie. Mostly they are a comic narration—a cliché-rich mix of inane pride, rote optimism, and genial condescension, with occasional diatribes (complaints). This is comic because these are completely inappropriate to a starving 6-year-old orphan in Africa.

Schmidt’s flat, eternally bored intonation in the voice over letters. He is so focused on his own misery, and later his own garrulous, plodding perceptions, that the doesn’t consider Ndugu’ age or situation at all.

The letters are an example of the ancient but effective device of the "unreliable narrator." They dryly expose the discrepancy (gap) between the real world and what Schmidt perceives: we see what happens while we hear his very different account of the incidents. Thus the letters reveal the limitations of Schmidt’s meant horizons.

But what starts out as a comic device end up serving as a window into Schmidt’s soul. Through the letters, we are able to view Schmidt’s life as he sees it, and then make our own assessments. There is no interpersonal communication here: the letters never acknowledge the interests of an impoverished African boy, but simply express Schmidt’s frustration at the world. When he talks to Ndugu, he is talking to himself. Ndugu functions as his invisible father-confessor or silent therapist.

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