The Shipping News is a movie where you need to be versant in symbolism to fully appreciate the story. Water represents emotion and Quoyle is always on the verge of drowning because he can't get a hold of his own emotions. As the director states in the DVD extras, Quoyle is a man sleepwalking through life. He is so out of touch with his own emotions that he is naturally attracted to anyone in touch in with their own. This leads to an intense and tragic pairing of Quoyle with Petal (Cate Blanchett) whom he marries and who in turn gives Quoyle a little girl and a rollercoaster ride of a life.
Quoyle first meets Petal while waiting to get gas in the pouring rain. He can barely make her out through as his windshield wipers struggle to keep up with the pouring rain. This first image of his future wife is a reoccurring theme for Quoyle. He can't see Petal because of the heavy rain coming down, just as in life, Quoyle can't always see through his emotions. With Petal, he starts to wake up but only periodically. It's only when Quoyle moves back to his ancestral home that he finally wakes up and learns to feel, probably for the first time in his life. He lands a job at the local paper, the Gammy Bird, where he's put in charge of covering the shipping news and car accidents.
As he finds his niche in the small Newfoundland town, Quoyle is forced to confront all his demons including ones he had no idea he had. With the sure guidance of his equally troubled Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) Quoyle learns for the first time that his father was far more troubled then Quoyle could ever hope to be. As Quoyle's emotions finally thaw in the frozen town, he gains the respect of his young daughter Bunny (played by triplets Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer) and more importantly for himself. He falls for a young widow named Wavey (Julianne Moore) aptly named since this whole movie is about boats and the sea, who runs a day care and has a boy who's slow who becomes Bunny's best friend. Maybe Bunny sees something of her emotionally slow father in the little boy and so learns to appreciate people who aren't as quick as she and her mother obviously are. Of course, fast is hardly a strong enough term for Cate Blanchett's character Petal, one of the boldest women to ever grace the screen. You get the feeling that Blanchett is having the time of her life playing Petal, a woman who goes roaring through life without regrets.
The whole cast of The Shipping News is superb. The actors, directed by a man with vision (Lasse Hallstrom, maker of Cider House Rules) are all superb, giving the performances of their careers. Scott Glen is wonderfully understated as the man who hires Quoyle and, as a father figure, believes in him which starts Quoyle on his road to recovery. As Quoyle's aunt Dench is both hard and vulnerable all at the same time. She can portray a whole life with only one look making you believe anything she tells you onscreen. Kevin Spacey simply is Quoyle. Even though I'd just seen Spacey in The Usual Suspects, while watching The Shipping News, Spacey was never anyone but Quoyle. I guess that's what good acting is all about. Julianne Moore is a study in strong women who can hold up under any circumstances. Her beauty runs deep. To say I liked the movie is an understatement. Few movies have this kind of depth. Few movies make you think about life in such a way as The Shipping News does. In our world of fast and easy answers, this movie doesn't have any. Like the gorgeous but unforgiving country it was filmed in, The Shipping News tells you plainly what life is like, take it or leave it. In the end, Quoyle has more strength in him that he ever realised and, though his ancestors were scoundrels and worse, they lent him the strength to come to terms with his own life. Although this movie has some very adult themes and isn't for young children, you never get the feeling they're in there for their shock value. This is a movie about real people having real lives, hurting, loving, cheating and getting over it. And it's a very good movie made from a great book. The Shipping News is a treasure in an over-produced world with its twisted reality.