In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, those aforementioned victims of oppression are residents of a small southern town where tumbleweeds roam and where repression reigns. Primarily, we're concerned with John Singer (an excellent Alan Arkin), an intelligent deaf-mute who recently moved to the area to be closer to his only friend, the recently institutionalized Spiros (Chuck McCann); Mick Kelly (Sondra Locke, Oscar-nominated), the bright teenager daughter of renters (Biff McGuire and Laurinda Barrett) who wants desperately to get a good education and get out of the city; and Dr. Copeland (Percy Rodriguez), an African-American physician confined to the racially segregated slums of the area to practice. Various dramas intermingle.
Singer moves into the Kelly house's spare room, and develops a sweet, sensitive friendship with the home’s resident teenager, their loneliness complementing one another’s. After a chance encounter, Singer and Copeland become something of professional partners after the latter hires Singer to help him communicate with a deaf-mute patient.
But in the meantime is Copeland both made anxious by a recent tragedy and by the reality that he’s dying of cancer. Singer is also struggling with alienation, and Kelly is terrified of the future and is coming to understand that she might not be able to see her ambitions come out of the woodwork as a result of her dysfunctional family’s dependence on her.
All is rather plotless, serving as a slice of tragic Americana. Initially do we believe that maybe a romantic relationship will develop between Singer and Kelly. But as the film wears on is it evident that it more distinctly favors the naturalistic route; a romance between the two would never last even if it did come to fruition, and it’s true that neither of these individuals will ever really experience true, long-lasting happiness in their lifetimes. But their brief friendship drives the movie. Decades of struggle await them, but at least they have this short period in which they have each other.
Because we sympathize with the characters of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter so monumentally, and because the actors so compassionately devote themselves, the sadness does not feel gratuitous — it’s the kind of film wherein we cry with these individuals. We should perhaps even feel grateful, considering we’re likely the only people in the world, with the exception of Copeland, who will have seen what they’re capable of and who have recognized their individuality.
Its somber finale leaves The Heart is a Lonely Hunter feeling scattershot, like a pointless exercise in misery. We’d rather see these people ride off merrily into the sunset, of course. But life does not often work miracles, and the movie is such a convincing slice of it we prefer tragedy to glitz. A-
Robert Ellis Miller
2 Hrs., 3 Mins.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter July 31, 2017
obert Ellis Miller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968) is a movie concerned with exceptional individuals who never see their potential through due to the circumstances of their personal lives. Disheartened by the recognition of their realities and how often they proliferate in the real world, the movie is a sort of ode to those who could have shaken the earth if given the right opportunity, but never did. It trembles, like its characters, with quiet fury.