I'm guessing many of us, Shepard included, struggle with the idea of looking back. Fortunately not many of have a camera crew offering to help us indulge, or an archive of letters.
Those letters, shared somewhat in the film, showcase the clear talent Sam has with words. And his relationship with Johnny Dark feels substantial, although unequal.
Could just be me, but I sensed a struggle within Sam to be more the type of man that Dark was, especially in terms of family devotion. Not just attending to his ailing wife, but honestly stepping in when Shepard steps out on his son and O-Lan for a life with Lange. Seems all the relationships with Shepard, from his father on down are branded with ambiguity.
I walked away wondering if Shepard feels, like a lot of us, some shame with certain angles of our own character, and yet well-aware that those angles have pretty much put us where we are today.
For worse, or for him, better. He sees aspects of the Dark that I'm certain he admires, but the shadows of his own father seem to occlude them.
Maybe I'm not quite a big enough fan of Shepard, though I am a fan of his work; plenty of scenes of Sam as singer/star/stud/ranch hand in here for folks who are deeper in Shepard's flock. I walked away rooting for Dark, hoping he keeps on finding access to pianos and brings some sustaining snacks the next time he visits his friend.
I do miss letter writing....such a different experience than anything e-phemeral.
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