Making the Grades
Somewhere in New Brunswick, Canada is a building inspection department dreading the release of the movie Still Mine. Or so they should be. That’s because the government agency is the bad guy in the story of an 88-year-old man who sets out to construct a small home on his own property.
Based on a true story, the events begin to unfold when Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) has to admit his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold) is losing her ability to navigate their old two storey home. Not only does her advancing Alzheimer’s make her forget things, but she is also far more susceptible to falls. Two of the couple’s seven children (Julie Stewart, Rick Roberts) wonder if a nursing home wouldn’t be the best option. But Craig has another idea.
He decides to build a small, single storey home overlooking the Bay of Fundy on property he already owns. Using lumber from his own land, cutting the wood in his own sawmill and erecting the walls with time-honored building practices he learned from his father, Craig goes about constructing a house that will allow him to care for Irene in their last years. Yet problems begin almost immediately when the local building inspection authorities get wind of his project. Before Craig knows it, they slap a bright orange stop work order on the frame of the building and prepare to take him to court.
If ever a movie set out to criticize pervasive bureaucracy, this is how it would do it. Even after Craig brings in professional builders to inspect his work (and they determine it not only meets but also exceeds current building standards), the department is bent on bulldozing the structure and sending Craig to jail.
While governmental red tape at the building department causes inordinate amounts of trouble for the quiet man, the beauty of this story lies in the relationships—between the aging couple, between parents and children, between the couple and their lifelong friends (Barbara Gordon, George Robertson), even between Craig and his lawyer (Campbell Scott). Craig comes from a generation that believes in taking care of oneself and one’s neighbors. His generosity is evident in the simple, unheralded way he watches out for others. His love for Irene is reflected in his enduring compassion and patience even in the face of her fading memory and growing dependence. He is a man who does things right because it is the right thing to do—not because it is legislated. However, when his view of what is right comes up against official policy, his lifetime of experience, competency of building skills and laudable self-reliance all come under attack.
Masterfully directed by Michael McGowan, beautifully shot and carefully edited, Still Mine offers a multiple of storylines and characters that come together in a powerful way. All the same, the thematic elements of this story are unlikely to entice young viewers. And that may be just as well because the movie includes frequent terms of Deity, mild profanities, buttock and partial frontal nudity, and some brief sexuality involving a married couple.
Still, for audiences edging toward those advanced years (or watching their parents do so), this film brings to the screen an absorbing tale that highlights the essence of personal strength and the need for common sense—especially in the face of bureaucratic belligerence.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Still Mine.
What are the challenges of aging that Craig and Irene face? How does he show his love for her even as she becomes increasingly dependent and fearful? How does his view of her medical condition differ from that of his children? Why is that so?
How does the couple’s dining room table become symbolic of their life together? Why is Craig more interested in taking his time building the house than he is in quickly finishing it? Why is he reluctant to take help from others?
How does Craig’s outlook on life differ from his friend Chester’s? How is that depicted in the comparison between Craig’s truck and Chester’s new tractor?
Learn more about the real Craig Morrison.