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In Aurora Borealis, James Burke helms a poignant, cerebral family dramedy that ponders the meaning of life while musing on the question of mortality. It’s the story of Duncan (Joshua Jackson), a seemingly lazy hardcore unemployable who suffers from comparisons to his older brother Jacob (Steven Pasquale), a family man and successful banker. One day, fate intervenes on Duncan’s behalf when he’s called upon to check on his aging grandparents, Ronald (Donald Sutherland) and Ruth (Louise Fletcher), who’ve recently relocated to his hometown of Minneapolis. Duncan loses his unofficial position as black sheep of the family when he’s offered a job as a handyman in his grandparents’ building and finds love with his grandfather’s quirky home assistant, Kate (Juliette Lewis). But just as Duncan discovers a solution to his immediate employment problem, new obstacles rush in to fill the void. Soon, Duncan must confront his grandfather’s rapidly deteriorating Alzheimer’s disease, the truth behind his father’s untimely and mysterious death, and the reasons why he’s unable to get past his own paralyzing fears about the present and the future. Sutherland gives a heartbreaking performance as a septuagenarian consumed by both dementia and self-pity, while Fletcher is a study of intense nuance as his loving, selfless, and never-beleaguered lifelong mate. Features an arresting, eclectic soundtrack, which includes music by Bob Dylan.
Director's Statement Collapse
Directors Note: James Burke, Aurora Borealis
The day we shot the title sequence for Aurora Borealis, outside, overlooking the Mississippi river, it was 25 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor of 60 below zero. I felt great, that is whatever parts of my body I could still feel, because I knew that we needed to capture this kind of detail, and because one of the remarkable facets of this challenging script was its specificity of place. The small bits of behavior, the language, culture, and environment of the upper mid-west really set apart this coming-of-age story from the many others I had read.
I was also attracted to the unique, trans-generational nature of the story. Both main characters face major life transitions. A young man, Duncan, must move past his arrested adolescence into adulthood. An old man, his grandfather Ronald, must come to grips with the physical deterioration caused by illness and age and find meaning for the end of his days. Both lack the same person, Duncan's father (Ronald's son), who would normally play the transitional guide's role in their journey. So they must reach out to form what becomes a complex and unique relationship that I had never seen played out in film before.
The title describes the Northern Lights, an atmospheric phenomenon common to the Upper Northern hemisphere, especially Canada and the Arctic Circle, where bright bands of red, green and yellow light shine in the winter sky. But it also describes a kind of strong belief. In the film, Ronald claims to see the lights from the balcony of his apartment in Minneapolis, a nearly unimaginable occurrence. Most of the extended family believes he is hallucinating. Only Duncan comes to his defense. Making an independent film is much the same experience, a belief that you can see something that most people assume will never be seen. This past December, a few months after finishing the film, it was reported that for the first time in anyone's memory, the Aurora Borealis were seen over the city of Minneapolis, shining brightly in the night sky.
Film Information Collapse
[AUROR] | 2005 | 109 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Aurora Borealis)
About the Director(s)Collapse
James Burke served as executive producer on Thirteen Conversations About One Thing starring Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Amy Irving and Alan Arkin, and On Levity starring Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst, both of which were released by Sony Pictures Classics in 2002 and 2003, respectively. He was also part of the producer team on the Tony® Award-winning Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night starring Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Dennehy and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He directed the short film Borderline, written by John Bishop, which won awards at the Charleston World/Fest and the Houston Film Festival. Burke has also directed for theater, and is a graduate of the Directing Program at the American Film Institute.