Novelist Kent Haruf passed away in November, 2014. His last novel, written after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, was published the following May. That novel, Our Souls at Night, is now a Netflix movie available for streaming.
As the movie begins, widow Addie Moore makes a surprising proposition to widower Louis Waters: she asks if he would like to sleep with her. Nothing more, just sleep in the same bed. She has been alone for years and finds the nights too long and lonely, and she just wants to sleep through the night. Louis takes her up on her offer.
They are awkward together at first, longtime neighbors who know a lot about each other but don’t really know each other. They use their nights together to learn more about each other; eventually they open up about their pasts, particularly their mistakes and regrets. Making no judgments on each other, they listen, understanding that each person has her own pain.
The intimacy of the friendship adds new life to their days. It also attracts the attention of others in their small Colorado town, but Addie is tired of caring what other people think. When Addie’s son leaves her grandson, Jamie, with her, things change again. As the friendship evolves into something more, the stakes get higher. The closer they get to each other, the more they risk of themselves.
When I read the book, I have to say that the main characters did not conjure images of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda; I had to adjust my thinking a bit to see these aging but still glamorous actors as Addie and Louis. However, they inhabit the characters very well, opening them so we can see the vulnerability, the loneliness, and the regret that each of them has been fighting for so long.
The members of my church book club joked about their arrangement, wondering if any of us would do the same if they were alone. We were split on the issue, some thinking that it would be way too weird and some thinking it might be a comfort. But two widows among us assured us that the loneliness is real, that nights can be very hard to get through, and while they might not choose this route, they could understand why someone might.
It’s not just the widows in the story who are experiencing pain. Addie’s son is hurting from a broken marriage and a disappointment in his career. His son, Jamie, is hurting as the collateral damage from the marital rift. As is often the case in Haruf’s stories, imperfect people find ways to build community with unlikely allies.
This is a slow, thoughtful movie—some might think it plodding or lacking in plot. I found it quite lovely. It is slightly less melancholy than the book, and the visuals of Colorado are fitting for the beloved, fictional small town of Holt that Haruf created for his readers.
You might not agree with every choice that Addie and Louis make. But for those of us who have not yet experienced the loneliness of old age and losing a spouse, this brings it home. And that’s no small thing. Christ modeled compassion for this pain in Luke 7:12-13: “As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” He then brought her son back to life. His concern for her was very great, as our own must be for those around us who find themselves alone.
Our Souls at Night isn’t a study in biblical living. But it will give viewers a much better understanding of what some of the people around us are suffering, and that, in turn, may help us better embrace them with Christ’s love. (Netflix)