|Geraldine Page as "Mother Watts" (right) with Rebecca de Mornay.|
In Peter Masterson's film of The Trip to Bountiful (1985) there is nothing outside of Geraldine Page's performance as Carrie Watts, for which she went on to win a Best Actress Oscar. Without the performance there is no film of which to speak. Luckily the performance is so lovely and so delicately rendered that it's enough to justify the existence of the film that surrounds it like a nest that cushions a precious egg. "Mother Watts" has become one of the great roles in the female repertoire, a showcase for female actors looking to cap off a long career; it was originated by Lillian Gish and was most recently revived for Cicely Tyson.
Page's Carrie is soft and fluttery--she's a large woman, verging on doughy, but her face, and particularly her voice, are as light as a child's. Her hands dance around her mouth and her chin, and at first glance her nervous energy risks being mistaken for signs of senility. But the film insists that underneath Carrie's flightiness is the kind of strong core that allows a tree to bend in the wind without breaking. She draws strength from her faith and her memories of the past, and her connection to her family homestead in Bountiful, Texas, to which she determines to make a last pilgrimage before succumbing to immobility. And what's beautiful and touching about Page's Carrie is that the trip makes her radiantly happy--blissfully happy. As a film about an elderly woman reflecting on her life (and preparing for death) there's nary a dour note in the whole thing. Having made it to Bountiful, Carrie is so exultant and relieved she may as well be on another plane. The petty grievances of her daughter-in-law matter as little to her as a cloud of gnats to be waved away. She has, in a sense, already passed on; she is at rest.