Bernie at Lars Hockstead Auditorium

Have I mentioned that I love my job? It hardly seems fair that while my friends are waiting on tables, or working at the marina, yesterday afternoon I “had” to go see the movie Bernie for It was noon and the sun was at its peak, and I was glad to escape in to the dark and cool Lars Hockstead, where the vintage school furnishings (the auditorium is part of Central Grade School, which was built in the early twenties) were oddly appropriate for the funerary themed Bernie.

A little background on Bernie: First of all, this is based off of a true story. There really was a Bernie, an assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas. Beloved by the entire town for his generosity and caring, Bernie decided to become friends with Mrs. Nugent, an unbelievably wealthy oil widow who was as generally hated as Bernie was loved. Their relationship straddled the line between companions and subordinates as Mrs. Nugent became more and more possessive and controlling. Eventually, Bernie snapped and shot her in the back, then stuffed her in a freezer to “preserve the body” like a good mortician. For the next nine months, he kept up the illusion that she was alive–just out of town or not feeling well–all the while spending her money on a new prayer wing for the church, a trip to Russia for the school choir, or buying failing local businesses etc.. When Bernie was found out the entire town stood in his support, forcing the DA to move the trial a county over to ensure a fair verdict. He now resides in a maximum security prison where he teaches musical theatre and runs the craft room.

As macabre as the plot in summation may seem, this movie was hilarious. Jack Black plays Bernie, and his total absorption in to the role is amazing. His subtly delivered lines had the entire audience (me included and I NEVER laugh out loud at movies) hooting and hollering like a west Texas rodeo crowd. The best part though, was that the interviews with the townspeople of Carthage were the real deal–no actors, no scripts, just down home folks who had known the actual Bernie, Mrs. Nugent (played by a wonderfully imperious Shirley McClain) and DA Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey is almost totally unrecognizable in the stiff necked role with a greying brown wig). Their candor is what makes Bernie so refreshingly honest and real. These people are, excuse the expression, shooting from the hip. 

I left the theatre with aching sides and a goofy smile. But still, something was niggling at my conscious. How could anyone, no matter how nice the defendant was, continue to love an undoubted murderer? Bernie shot Mrs. Nugent, an old lady, in the back four times. Pretty unforgivable if you ask me. And yet those real people were counting the days (they have a while to go-Bernie won’t go on parole for another forty-some years) until their friend Bernie will be returned to them. Its an interesting question about human nature–how does forgiveness work? I can’t say I have the answer, but I will say that posing the question with a hearty dose of comedy made it easier to ponder.  

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