Netflix Update No. 17: “October Sky”

September 5, 2009



We watched “October Sky,” a 1999 film based on the real life of Homer Hickam Jr., who became a NASA engineer after initially experimenting with rocket flight against his father’s wishes.

Homer is played by Jake Gyllanthaal and his father — called John in the movie — is played by Chris Cooper.

John Hickam is a supervisor in a West Virginia coal mine, and he expects Homer to follow him into the trade, as most boys in the town have followed their own dads. The unexpected launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in October 1957 inspires Homer to work with some of his friends to build and fire a succession of rockets, gradually refining the devices. Homer’s open desire to escape from what seems to him the pointless existence in his hometown — and specifically to enter a national science fair in order to get a college scholarship causes increasing tension between him and his father.



This movie is a little melodramatic, but it presents a stark picture  of the lives of people in a company town that depends for its mean existence on a failing mine.

Cooper gives a credible performance as a man whose own courage and determination with respect to protecting the mine and the livelihoods of his employees does not help him recognize his son’s courage and determination, though directed at a different goal.

Laura Dern plays the idealized role of a high school teacher whose mission is to help the boys and girls in these grim surroundings to pursue their dreams.


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