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The Whales of August (1987)

Summer people in Maine: things are changing. Whales no longer pass close to the shore as they did during the youth of two elderly widowed sisters who have a seaside home where they've ... See full summary »

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »
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Storyline

Summer people in Maine: things are changing. Whales no longer pass close to the shore as they did during the youth of two elderly widowed sisters who have a seaside home where they've summered for 50 years. Libby is blind, contrary, and seemingly getting ready to die. Sarah is attentive to her sister, worried about continuing to care for her, and half interested in an old Russian aristocrat who fishes from their shore. It's the eve of Sarah's 46th wedding anniversary. The Russian offers some fish he's caught, Sarah invites him to dinner, and Libby gets her back up. Sarah wonders if it isn't time to sell the place and find a home for Libby. What alternatives do old people have? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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The Screen's Immortals... A movie you'll never forget.

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Drama

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Release Date:

19 August 1987 (France)  »

Also Known As:

As Baleias de Agosto  »

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Box Office

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$1,338,198 (USA)
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1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In one scene, Lillian Gish and Ann Sothern are seen overlooking the ocean. Sothern's character remarks that whales have scarcely been seen since the war due to submarines. In real life, Ann Sothern's paternal grandfather, Simon Lake, was the inventor of the modern submarine. See more »

Goofs

After Sarah neatens Libby's dress, Libby keeps her right arm resting on her left one. In the next shot her right arm is on the chair arm. See more »

Quotes

Libby Strong: Photographs fade. Memories live forever.
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Soundtracks

Roses of Picardy
(uncredited)
Music by Haydn Wood
Lyrics by Frederick Edward Weatherly
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Timeless grace and beauty
10 May 2004 | by (Vancouver, B.C.) – See all my reviews

Lindsay Anderson's The Whales of August stars silent film legend Lillian Gish, in her 95th year, and Bette Davis, 79, as widowed sisters, one warm and supportive, the other cold and cantankerous, who have been coming to a small cottage on the Maine seacoast for sixty years. Every August, they watch the journey of the whales passing in the nearby waters together but the sense is that this may be their last summer together. Knowing that their time is limited, the siblings attempt to resolve long-standing differences but face many obstacles. The Whales of August takes place during the course of a single day and the camera stays mostly inside the house except to follow the sisters on occasional walks to the ocean. It all sounds static but there is a great deal of emotion churning beneath the surface.

Libby (Davis) is nearly blind and very difficult to live with, always talking about how her life is over. Her sister Sarah (Gish) on the other hand is the polar opposite. She is sweet in her sisterly devotion to taking care of Libby and avoiding getting drawn into her moods (she always calls her dear). She brushes her hair, fixes breakfast for her, gets her clothes together and tends to the garden. "Busy, busy, busy" is how Libby talks about her and irritatingly calls her Say-rah throughout the film. Ms. Davis looks gaunt but her face shows a strength that is as craggy as the seacoast rocks. The film also features Vincent Price as Mr. Maranov, a down on his luck but charming Russian refugee whom Libby suspects is trying to worm his way in with them, and Haray Caray, Jr. as Joshua Brackett, a handyman who is forever making a racket in the house.

Also featured is Ann Sothern as Trish, a friend and neighbor who is close to convincing Sarah to leave Libby's care to her daughter until she remembers how Libby supported her when her own husband died. Sarah draws every ounce of emotion from a lovely scene in which she celebrates her 46th wedding anniversary by having an imaginary conversation with Philip, her long deceased husband. "Forty-six years, Phillip", she tells him. "Forty-six red roses; forty-six white. White for truth--red for passion. That's what you always said - passion and truth; that's all we need. I wish you were here, Phillip." Another moving sequence is when Libby brushes her face with a lock of her husband's hair while sitting alone in her bedroom.

I had heard that The Whales of August was little more than a vehicle for two aging stars to sing their swan song; however, I found the screenplay by David Berry to gracefully complement the performances with an emotional honesty that captures the truth of the characters. Not a great deal happens in The Whales of August but that is often true of life. It is a gentle and civilized character study that lets us know it is never too late to bury long-standing grievances and open a picture window to possibility. It may be elegant and old fashioned in its style but it has a grace and beauty that is timeless.


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