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Digging to China

A movie directed by Timothy Hutton

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A story about a different friendship

  • Dec 10, 2000
  • by
Rating:
+5
Pros: Great casting, unique storyline, originality

Cons: None

This past week I finally got the chance to sit through the movie Digging to China while being shown on Home Box Office Channel. The director of this film is Timothy Hutton, with Kevin Bacon in the role of Ricky.

The movie appears to take place in the 1970s with The Dating Game and Newlywed Game showing on the television in the living room. Magic Carpet Ride is one of the songs that you will hear while viewing Digging to China .

The story takes place at this Log Cabin motel run by a family consisting of a Mother portrayed by Cathy Moriarty. The eldest daughter, Gwen, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, is actually an Adult while the youngest daughter is ten years old and in fourth grade I believe. Her name is Harriet and played by a newcomer, Evan Rachel Wood.

The scenes where Harriet is having dinner are always in the living room with her meals on a tv tray. The other two females are puffing away on their cigarettes while primping their hair.

Harriet asks many questions that fall on deaf ears to her Mother and sister. She is very curious and has a need to learn about unusual facts. She drives her sister crazy while slowly washing the dishes.

Sometimes she sleeps in the bed with her Mother and her sister is usually on a date or entertaining someone in another room. One time Harriet poured a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise and relish in the sheets of Gwen’s bed and covered it up with the comforter. The next morning the male visitor and Gwen entered the kitchen. Harriet’s breakfast was the jar of each condiment from the previous night. The funny part was the guy laughing at their antics.

A woman named Leah arrived with her adult son Ricky to stay at the motel while their car was being repaired in the city. They were en route from San Diego to a facility that would be Ricky’s home. Ricky is portrayed as mentally challenged although Gwen refers to him a few times as retarded. Ricky is aware that he is different and will not be changing.

Harriet spied Ricky upon their arrival and went to their cabin to say hello to him. You will notice that Ricky does not ever look directly at Harriet or anyone for that matter due to his disability. He is constantly doing things with his hands and chewing on the end of his sweater.

It is then time for Harriet to catch the bus and Ricky runs past the bus saying goodbye to Harriet. Next Ricky carts over a red chair from the motel and sits underneath the sign on the side of the road waiting for her return.

For a brief moment panic struck me when the next scene shows the bus coming to a stop with no one in the chair. This is one movie that either had me laughing or crying throughout its entirety. If you have seen The Boy Who Could Fly or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape , this would give you an idea of the type of person and disability Ricky has.

Ricky has a collection of postcards that he shows Harriet and they discuss Disneyland and the home he is moving to. Harriet says that she wishes she could live at Disneyland while Ricky tells her that it is not a real home. They talk about what it would be like to live in a castle. The answers Ricky gives are very similar to the ones I can imagine my oldest son responding as he gets older.

They go off to this Christmas place that has concession stands with balloons and rides they ride on like the ferris wheel and some spinning around ones. Then the idea of trying to escape develops with Harriet and Ricky getting a lawn chair, inner tubes and balloons. There is only room for one of them to leave so Harriet decides it will be her.

She gets caught in the trees and asks Ricky to go back to the cabin and tell his Mother to call the fire department. They try another time to leave and stay outside. They jump in the water and decide to get married, all in a childish fashion. When Harriet states Ricky must kiss the bride, he tells Harriet he is not allowed to kiss girls or touch himself. They slept in this vacant place but Ricky told Harriet that he wanted and needed his Mom. She went for help and they took Ricky off in the ambulance.

The scene where Harriet goes to the Hospital because she is his wife to visit him is very cute. Also in the movie they sit on the side of the road with a sign selling things to try to make money. They just like to hang out before Harriet goes to school and when she gets home.

Ricky tells Harriet that his mother is dying that is why he has to go to the home so he is taken care of. There is a tragedy in the movie where Harriet’s mother dies and the scene with her and Gwen driving by the spot where their Mothers car flipped is an emotional one. The sisters were never close to begin with but then Gwen explains why Harriet is not really an orphan due to Gwen being pregnant at the age of fifteen.

Harriet and Ricky are consulting an Ouji board to see if Gwen really is Harriet’s Mother and Ricky wants to know if his Mother is dying. Even though Ricky has a disability he still is able to comfort Harriet after her “Mother” dies. He slowly moves closer to her and hugs her in his own way. This was such a moving scene for me to see this displayed so tenderly.

Gwen discourages Harriet from being with Ricky due to her indifference towards him and thinking that since he is an Adult that he functions as one. Harriet also asks Leah why Gwen does not like Ricky. Gwen tells Harriet what type of place the home really is that Ricky is going to. It turns out to be more like a jail than a castle they were hoping for.

Ricky and Harriet discuss their wishes and Harriet carries one of them out. She brings Ricky to school and he shares his stories of his postcards to all the kids and Harriet smiles knowing how happy Ricky is.

The scenes at the school are quite comical with the kids always looking disinterested in the assignments. Harriet does not have any friends at school and one time Ricky told her that he was her only friend and it seemed so sad but true.

The night before heading back on the road, Harriet dropped off a card she made for Ricky. When his Mother brought it to him you see the way he has sorted all the items from his pockets and laid out his clothes. This is so typical of what I have read older autistic individuals do.

When it came time to say goodbye Ricky started crying so Harriet hugged him the same way he had when she was mourning her “Mother”. Gwen observed this from the window and immediately took it the wrong way with a fight erupting. Ricky was taken away with the police and I felt a lump in my throat thinking of how many stories I have read of this type of incident happening.

What started as over reacting to a hug by Gwen ended up with confusion for Ricky and he ended up breaking her arm by pinning her down when she lunged at him. Once she learned this was purely innocent and nothing more she apologized to Harriet.

Once again Leah and Ricky were heading back to the home for Ricky to reside. Gwen told Harriet she could say goodbye to Ricky, but he told her he was a bad person and to stay away. When the car drove away Harriet was running beside the car just like Ricky first did when she was in the school bus.

While running after the car Harriet says ”See ya later Crocodile”, and then there is a scratch at the screen door with Ricky saying “After awhile Crocodile”, then heading back into the car to go to his new home.

This is such a wonderful movie about how Harriet is misunderstood by her friends and family and wanting to be rescued from her life. Enter Ricky on the way to his new life than forms a bond with Harriet. It seems that mentally they could be at the same level.

Gwen and Harriet are so different and by the end of the story they are closer to one another while both maturing in other ways. The character of Ricky could easily be a combination of both my sons that it is most difficult to re-enact in my mind this movie without getting emotional.

I would highly recommend Digging to China to anyone who has a family member who is mentally challenged or impaired. You will find yourself hoping to meet a person like Harriet someday to befriend your own child. This is a great family type movie that has no violence or foul language. It shows how friendship is made with no barriers or limitations due to what disability one might have.

Each character was portrayed perfectly. I actually started to care about Gwen and could see the potential for her to be a Mother now to Harriet. While Harriet is such an inquisitive young girl that has such an interest in life and learning. You get a feel from Leah that there is a sense or urgency in getting Ricky to the home as she prepares for her ultimate death. Leah is an older woman who seems worn out, pale and tired.

Now that I have viewed Digging to China in its entirety, it is time to order this for my collection. This is the type of movie that I can sit with my children as they get older and hope to explain their differences to others, while showing the similarities to Ricky and help them adjust to life outside their world.



Recommended:
Yes

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More Digging to China reviews
review by . December 12, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: great performances and a good story     Cons: none     Kevin Bacon is a strong actor. Other than Tremors (hey, he was young and it wasn’t all THAT bad), I can think of few movies that he doesn’t deliver a consistent performance. Not what you would call an outstanding actor under normal circumstances, but a relatively decent one that always gives good follow through for his roles. However, since his performance in Murder in the First, I have taken a different …
About the reviewer
Bonnie Sayers ()
Ranked #168
single parenting two teens on autism spectrum. Working out daily, Zumba & Bodybugg enthusiast.
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About this movie

Wiki

A strong friendship forms in a small town between a creative 10 year-old girl with a difficult home life and an adult mentally retarded man. Timothy Hutton directs Kevin Bacon, Mary Stuart Masterson and Cathy Moriarty in this small, overlooked film.
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Details

Director: Timothy Hutton
Release Date: 1998
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: Wellspring (December 26, 2006)
Runtime: 1hr 43min
First to Review
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