The Whales of August (1987)

It is a well-known certainty that family members, while in the same bloodline, may have highly differing personalities. This can create and augment conflicts varying from furniture arrangement to political opinions. Tension may even heighten to a point of estrangement. This step may be necessary, as each familial dispute is highly contextual. In many circumstances and despite disagreements, family members can reconvene and support one another through celebrations as well as trying trials and tribulations. As individuals age, it is essential that the support of family members shine so that their elderly loved ones receive well-deserved attention and care. “The Whales of August” is a 1987 film directed by Lindsay Anderson whereby the necessities of support are central to the survival and quality of life of the main characters.

Libby Strong (Bette Davis) and Sarah Webber (Lillian Gish) are two elderly sisters living together in their childhood beach home on the beautiful coast of Maine. With loss of her vision, the death of her husband, and distancing of her daughter, Sarah cares for Libby on a daily basis. Their personas contrast greatly. Sarah is mild-mannered, welcoming, and still hopeful for life’s unique challenges and promises. Libby appears to be more brash, aloof, and pessimistic. This mix could lead to a seemingly cantankerous relationship. Other vibrant characters contributing to their daily routine include upbeat meddler Tish Doughty (Ann Sothern who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role), debonair Russian nobleman Nicholas Maranov (Vincent Price), and noisy handyman Joshua Brackett (Harry Carey, Jr.). Their interactions throughout the film reveal cumulative loss in many facets of life, the reality of impending death, the treasury of friendship, and the beauty of our natural surroundings.

The magnitude of star power in this film is absolutely spellbinding. Vincent Price is a vital figure in horror and suspense cinema, Ann Sothern is a strong presence in the history of TV and film, Harry Carey Jr. is a renowned character actor, and Lillian Gish is one of the most recognizable faces and pioneers in silent film. To me, Bette Davis is one of the most brilliant and fearless actresses in the history of cinema. She was quite frail at this point in her life. She had suffered several strokes in 1983 post-mastectomy relating to breast cancer as well as major familial conflict. However, her courage, determination, and ferocity shine through in this wonderful role as always.

Whales are frequently mentioned throughout the film. Their presence in the nearby ocean marks the impending change of seasons, but I feel that they symbolically represent nostalgia, home, and a portal to a more youthful past amongst the characters. As individuals grow older at any point in their life, they often lament and pine for more carefree days. Fears relating to health, time, and regret may cloud the present. However, this film demonstrates that a rich life, change of perspective, and subsequent flexibility of ideas can persist well into old age.

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I do not own the above image.

This post is part of the Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by Crystal ofย In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Please click on the link and head to her blog to read excellent tributes and movie reviews about this legendary, trailblazing actress!

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12 thoughts on “The Whales of August (1987)

  1. This is a movie that I’ve always been curious about, mostly because of the cast and the chance to see them after the heydays of their careers, and it sounds like it contains a lot of interesting themes as well. Thanks for writing about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely review. This is a beautiful and quite touching film. Gish and Price are excellent(as always).
    I too admire Bette for carrying on following her stroke, it must have taken great courage to appear before the camera looking so different to the public who had watched her on screen over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t seen “Whales” since high school–my aunt recommended it to my mom (“That’ll be us someday!”). Sadly, Auntie died suddenly in September, so her idea is not going to happen, but now I want to dig this movie out again for old time’s sake. Great review! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    • Thanks! It is a beautiful film, and it is lovely to see such screen legends together towards the end of their careers. I always think about the significance of a title when I watch a movie, and I like to write about that in my reviews ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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