Movie Mondays: Searching for Missing Persons

~posted by Frank

People watch movies about lost or missing people because they want to see if they will be found. While there’s nothing greater than an emotional reunion, it’s often the journey and trials of those doing the searching that are so compelling. These four films are a testament to that.

Considered a classic of the western genre and of cinema in general is The Searchers (1956). John Wayne stars as Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards, who discovers after returning to the home of his brother that his brother’s wife and son have been killed by Comanche Indians – and that his niece Debbie has been abducted. So begins a five year journey for Ethan to find Debbie, who is later played by Natalie Wood. Veteran director John Ford tells a complicated story that’s notable for its brutal depiction of white settlers and Native Americans, and is perhaps more shocking today than it was when it came out nearly fifty years ago.

Another classic that fits the bill is The Color Purple (1985). Based on the novel by Alice Walker, it tells the story of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), who is separated from her sister Nettie at a young age and treated unspeakably bad by Mister (Danny Glover). It follows Celie over 30 years, and the complex relationships she forges with women (most notably Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery). Goldberg and director Steven Spielberg do some of their best work in this powerfully emotional film which garnered 11 Oscar nominations – but notably no awards. 

Philomena (2013), based on the nonfiction book by Martin Sixsmith, is a bittersweet tale of shame, regret and forgiveness. Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, who was impregnated as a teen and forced to give up her son while living as an inmate in an Irish convent. Fifty years later, she meets Martin (Steve Coogan), a disgraced journalist who reluctantly agrees to write a human interest story about Philomena, and the two begin a journey that takes them to America to find her son. Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, director Steven Frears provides us with an ultimately uplifting tale and a wonderful vehicle for Dench and Coogan.

Last but not least is The Immigrant (2014) from director James Gray. It’s 1921, and Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda are Polish immigrants who arrive on Ellis Island. When Magda is quarantined with tuberculosis and Ewa’s American relatives are nowhere to be found, she desperately turns to Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) for help. She soon finds out that Bruno owns a nightclub and that prostitution is the only way she can earn the money to bribe Magda out of quarantine upon her recovery and not be sent back to Poland. Things get more complicated when she meets Bruno’s cousin Orlando (Jeremy Renner), a magician who promises her a better life. The Immigrant is as notable for Cotillard’s breathtaking performance as it is for the sumptuous production and costume design, and is must viewing for lovers of period melodrama.

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