I knew a guy at high school called Paul, but for some reason everybody called him ‘Duck’. It was one of those nicknames whose genesis was lost in the mists of whatever else it is you spend your teenage years doing. I remember going to see ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ (an extremely well-crafted but morally hollow film, to my mind) in 1989 at East Belfast’s Strand Cinema, which Van Morrison is photographed beside for the inlay cover art of ‘The Healing Game’ album, and where I saw more of the formative films of my 15th/16th/and 17th years than anywhere else. Duck came into the theatre just as the audience was almost fully seated, and so we called out to him: ‘DUCK!’ A few dozen people did.
That serves merely as a circuitous way into talking a little about a film I saw last night, called ‘Duck’, and for good reason. It’s about a man and a duck. The man is a widower, and earlier lost his son. The movie’s version of the US is a soulless place in which every tree is being colonised by shopping malls, and where psychiatrists mistake innocence for mental illness. The man, played by Philip Baker Hall, an actor who can genuinely be called ‘great’, not least because I usually feel exhilarated any time I see him, wanders around accompanied by the eponymous creature, a gorgeous goose, looking for the ocean. The movie doesn’t really hold together – it’s a fable whose critique of the breakdown of community is not exactly subtle or nuanced; but it’s absolutely worth watching for the central performance. Hall is so beguiling and sympathetic that he manages to invest the duck itself with a personality. It is easy to buy into their relationship, and not for a second – until after the film was over – did I think about the central absurdity and slightness of this film.