This excerpt from Skip Dine Young’s article on Movies and the Mind in Psychology Today, 2014, draws out the impact of black and white photography in experiencing and empathizing with the aging process.
This “addition by subtraction” is a silver (not ‘golden’) opportunity of a black and white film such as Nebraska. A family drama with some comedic undertones, the movie represents a genre that is extremely common in movies and television. Despite this ordinariness, the black and white photography immediately sets the film apart and makes it extra-ordinary. To begin with, the stark appearance of the film mirrors the stark landscape of the Plains. The combination creates the perfect setting for a dreary road trip from Montana to Nebraska undertaken by a middle-aged son, David (Will Forte), and his aging father, Woody (Bruce Dern) on a futile mission to claim a million dollars in a bogus sweepstakes scam.
Bruce Dern masterfully plays Woody, a lovable loser who is struggling with alcoholism and advancing Alzheimer’s. His loss of cognitive capacities is metaphorically captured in the audience’s loss of perceptual capacities. Buried inside Woody however is still the capacity to experience longing, shame and triumph; the photography forces the viewer’s attention on these subtleties whereas color might have made Woody appear simply vacant.