The Shipping
An Ideal


movie trailer ( - quicktime)

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The movie opens in the fall of 1957, with aerial views of Hartford Connecticut. The camera zooms in on Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) picking up her daughter from ballet class. They go home and is met at the front door by her son and their African-American housekeeper Sybil (Viola Davis). Cathy tells her children to do their homework early because she and their father will be going to a party that night.

Cathy spends quite a bit of time getting ready for the party and is in a beautiful peacock blue gown. Just as she is commenting on how late Frank, her husband is, the phone rings. Sybil picks up the phone and hands it to Cathy, saying that it is the police. Frank (Dennis Quaid) comes on the line, saying that he was taken into custody and she needs to come collect him. Cathy calls her friends, who are hosting the party that night and tells them that they won’t be going, because Frank was in a minor accident and needed his rest. In the car on the way home, Frank tries to explain, saying that the police got the wrong man and he was only a witness. Cathy brushes the whole incident off and tells Frank that it will be alright. They go home and Frank collapses into bed. Cathy tucks him in and tells him to have a good night’s rest.

As Frank is leaving for work the next day, a reporter and a photographer arrive, saying that they were there to interview Cathy for their magazine, a “Good Housekeeping” type of publication.

Frank heads into work. He is greeted by the bank of secretaries working in the front of the office floor and heads into his office, where he promptly pours some sort of alcohol from his flask into his coffee.

Meanwhile, Cathy is being interviewed by the magazine reporter. She is to be painted as the ideal and perfect housewife, who supports her husband in his work and takes care of the household during the day. Cathy smiles obligingly and poses for a photograph. The interview is interrupted, however, when she spots a stranger in her backyard. She is startled, because it is an African-American man she doesn’t know. She excuses herself and goes to intercept the stranger. She approaches him and is very cold and guarded when she asks him who he is. He doesn’t seem phased and introduces himself as Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert) the son of the Whitaker’s gardener. Cathy’s demeanour changes immediately and she apologises for her initial coldness. Raymond accepts her apology and tries to make her feel less awkward.

That night, Frank calls home, saying he, once again, won’t be home for dinner because he has too much work. Cathy is disappointed, but puts a cheery face on. Their children are also disappointed, but a lot more vocal about their father’s absence.

Frank is actually not at work – he was out at drinks with his colleagues. After they set off for home, however, Frank wanders into a cinema and is obviously not wanting to go home. When the movie lets out, he wanders into a back alley, and through an anonymous door. Seems to be a gentleman’s only club, and not long after he sits down at the bar, a man at the other end of the bar buys Frank a drink. A knowing look passes between them.

The next day, Cathy is busy preparing for the Whitaker’s annual party and her best friend Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson), along with 2 other Hartford society women, are on hand to help.

They are sitting around the table, planning the event, and sipping daiquiris. The women chat and gossip, and praise Cathy on her recent article – mentioning that the reporter included a small paragraph on how kind she is to “negroes”. Cathy blushes but tries to play it down – since integration is still not fully welcomed in that community. The topic of conversation then changed to how often their husbands wanted to have sex. Eleanor and the other two gush about how many times a week sex happens – Cathy is noticeably silent, but smiles gamely on.

That night, Frank calls, saying that he will be late again, and Cathy decides to bring dinner to him at the office. When she gets to the office building, it is deserted, but there’s a sliver of light coming through the bottom of his office door. Cathy smiles and opens the door – only to find Frank and another man, in various states of undress, kissing each other. Cathy, shocked, drops the Tupperware containing Frank’s dinner and runs home.

Later that night, Frank comes home to a darkened living room. Cathy is sitting on the sofa, quietly sobbing. The two have a very difficult and awkward conversation. Frank admits that he “has had problems in the past and thought that it was over, but now it’s come back”. In the end, the two agree that it’s best if Frank goes to get medical help.

The next week, they meet in a doctor’s office, who recommends psychotherapy and electric shock therapy among other courses of treatment. Frank acquiesces, but is obviously deeply unhappy about the whole thing. He insists on getting the treatments, for the good of himself and his family. Cathy is thrilled and tries to get some sort of reaction out of Frank. Frank stays muted but tells her that he can’t wait for this nightmare to be over.

Cathy tries to stay busy, attending a local art gallery exhibit. Raymond Deagan also attended with his daughter.

Deagan and his daughter are the only African-Americans in the room. Cathy expresses her surprise to Deagan (who once again, takes her implied prejudice in stride) and the two end up discussing Picasso. The rest of the art gallery is scandalized.

Over time, Frank begins his therapy, but we don’t know what happens and he doesn’t tell Cathy, even though Cathy asks. The two become more and more estranged. The night of their annual party, Frank gets very drunk and makes a veiled attempt to insult Cathy. Her friends are horrified, but Cathy tries to smooth it over, saying Frank just needed to let off steam after a busy period at work. It wasn’t until after the party that Frank reveals that he’s been put on leave by his firm. He’s not been himself since therapy started and has been sinking into despair. In a desperate attempt to right things, Frank starts to kiss Cathy and the two start making out on the sofa. But it doesn’t last long. Frank can’t do it. He is so upset and doesn’t understand why he is no longer attracted to his wide. Cathy tries to comfort him, but Frank pushes her away, hitting her in the eye accidentally.

The next morning, Eleanor comes to collect some of the silverware she lent Cathy for the party and notices the bruise. Eleanor implores Cathy to talk to her, but Cathy can’t. Eleanor leaves, and Cathy rushes into her back garden, sobbing uncontrollably. Raymond sees Cathy and offers to console her. Cathy, not understanding why she feels so comfortable with Raymond, at first refuses his help. But in the end, she accepts his company and he offers to take her for a ride. The two head off into the Connecticut woods, where the foliage is just breathtaking. Cathy, for the first time, is free of the boundaries and stress of her home life and finds herself able to talk to Raymond. She doesn’t reveal much, but she does admit that Frank was the one who gave her the bruise above her eye.

Raymond offers to take her to lunch, and she agrees. The two go to a small restaurant in the other side of town – where Cathy is the only Caucasian in the room. She understands the irony, and the two have an enjoyable lunch. Cathy even asks Raymond to dance with her. Her happiness is short-lived – a woman from Cathy’s social circle, who thrives on gossip sees Cathy and Frank go into the restaurant together. The town is in an uproar because everyone believes that Cathy and Raymond are having an inter-racial extra-marital affair. Even Frank is upset, saying that her actions will ruin their reputation. (Oh! The irony!)

Cathy tries to tell everyone that there is nothing going on between her and Raymond and eventually goes to Raymond’s store in town to tell him that he can no longer work as their gardener. Raymond tries to tell her that their friendship can transcend the bigotry, but Cathy is resolute. Before she leaves, she takes Raymond’s hand and tearfully tells him, “You are so beautiful.”

To get away from it all, Cathy and Frank decide to go away for New Year’s. They choose Miami. The couple have a great beginning to the holiday and things seem to be getting back on track. On New Year’s Eve, moments before the countdown, Frank catches the eye of a young man dining with his family at another table. A knowing look passes between them. A couple days later, when Frank is in his room alone, getting something for Cathy, he leaves the door ajar. Just as he was getting ready to leave, he sees the young man in his doorway.

Not long after Cathy and Frank get back to Connecticut, Frank breaks the news – he is in love with someone else and someone else is in love with him. Cathy agrees quickly to a divorce. Her world has fallen apart. She finally calls Eleanor and tells her everything about Frank. Eleanor is sympathetic and kind – until Cathy mentions how nice it was when she had Raymond to talk to. Eleanor quickly voiced her objection to Cathy befriending a “negro” and withdraws her support.

That night, Cathy goes home and finds out that Raymond’s daughter was hit by a stone thrown by one of the town’s boys. They were making fun of “her daddy for being in love with a white woman.” Cathy rushes over to Raymond’s house. Raymond tells her that he and his daughter are moving to Baltimore, to get away from everything. Cathy tells him that she’s soon to be single. Raymond understands the implications of what she’s saying, but tells her that he doesn’t think anything will be able to transcend racism anymore.

That night, Frank calls from a hotel room (and the camera pans to show the young man from Miami on the bed, reading the paper) and arranges for the time for Cathy and him to sign the divorce papers. Cathy agrees and puts down the phone.

The last scene is of Cathy rushing to the train station to catch Raymond before he leaves. She eventually finds him loading his luggage into a car. The two exchange no words, but wave goodbye as the train pulls out of the station. The last shot is of Cathy walking away from the departing train.


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