Posted by J on January 18, 2011
Most movies are purely entertaining, a distraction from worldly cares. Only a very few, maybe three or four, have ever provoked us to think for hours about them. Local Hero is one of those few. Mind you, it is not necessarily an entertaining movie. You will have to stick with it. You will also have to appreciate subtleties and try to make connections between characters and ideas. It demands a little bit of work.
If we tell you the plot, you will think that you will know everything that happens. A Texas oil company, Knox Gas and Oil, wants to buy the village of Ferness in Scotland, a tiny coastal town. Knox wants to build a refinery there and drill offshore. So Knox, headed by Felix Happer, sends an executive to Ferness to negotiate a deal. This executive is Mac, a bachelor selected for this mission because he appears to be Scottish — surname: MacIntrye — but who is actually Hungarian.
In every other movie ever made with this plot, the village of Ferness will be so quaint and charming, so socially and environmentally precious, that none of the locals will want to give up their traditional homes. A cliched movie would pit mega-corporations against quaint small towns. Not so Local Hero. The catch is that the villagers of Ferness actually want to sell their town. They all dream about the piles of money coming their way. They want to play the stock market. They want to buy property in an urban area. They want to ditch the place where their ancestors once lived.
Mac, on the other hand, begins to like Ferness. It’s quite different from the bustle of Houston. While the villagers stall negotiations in an attempt to get a sweeter deal, Mac walks the beaches and talks to the locals. And he seems to prefer the quiet openness of the place. Accompanying Mac is local representative Danny Oldsen. Danny grows fond of Ferness too, but for different reasons. He gets a crush on a mysterious local girl who is an adept swimmer. Both Mac and Danny experience Ferness almost in an otherworldly way. It is that charming smalltown that compares favorably to their big city lives. They are even transported to Ferness in an uncanny way, when a thick fog forces them to sleep on the road just before they arrive in town.
Mac has another mission. Happer has asked Mac to watch the skies, to look for any strange or interesting cosmological activity. Happer is a bit of an astronomy nut. He’s unable to look at the stars in Houston — the bright lights of the city are too overwhelming — so he has an artificial dome of stars built into his CEO office. In Ferness, Mac does see interesting stellar activity, seemingly for the first time. This adds to Mac’s fondness for Ferness and prompts Happer to want to leave Houston and see Ferness for himself.
Does Mac make a deal for Knox to buy Ferness? In movies like this, there are only two ways. Either the corporation wins and the oil refinery is built, bulldozing hundreds of years of local custom in a single deal, or the local town wins and tradition is saved. Local Hero offers a third way. While everyone wants to get the deal done, though Mac is tentative about it, one lone holdout who owns beachfront property doesn’t want to sell. Actually, he doesn’t need to sell, as he is perfectly content. This holdout upsets everyone, but it turns out that he has familial connections with Happer. Happer and the holdout work out an unexpected deal.
I’m tempted here to discuss and analyze the solution that the movie offers, but I’d prefer that you see the movie and think about it for yourself. It is worth pointing out that, in the movie, just about every character has unfulfilled dreams. Mac wants the charm of Ferness, the citizens of Ferness want Mac’s lifestyle, Danny wants a girl, Happer wants to see the sky — and all of these experience different endings to their problems. There are also subthemes that augment themes. For example, there’s the threat of hostility in the sky when a NATO jet flies overhead and bombs a nearby beach, practicing for live war against Russia. This is precisely that opposite of what Happer and Mac are looking for in the sky, but it’s challenged by the friendly visit of a Soviet fisherman who stops by Ferness to mingle with the locals.
And then there’s the final image. What does it mean? What is it telling us about cities, after we’ve spent most of the movie in a quaint small town and looking at a natural skyline? What is Mac thinking in that final shot? Local Hero has one of the most provoking final scenes I’ve seen in movies, but again, it’s a quiet scene. It’s not a twist ending. But it’s one that may inspire much thought.
I have not seen this movie twice, but I’m sure it’s one of the few that gets better on subsequent viewings.
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