THREE STARS - Thoughtful
When pain overwhelms our personal lives, we have two choices. We can cry our way through the hurt and become stronger by moving forward, or we can shut down our emotions in the hope that we will be shielded from pain.
Many of us, unfortunately, seek the latter path. Even if we aren't consciously choosing to close off our emotions, we slip ever-so-slowly into numbness in a vain attempt to be free from the pains of the world.
Ulee Jackson (Peter Fonda), a Florida beekeeper in his mid 50s, is a man who is struggling to keep what is left of his family together. His son is in prison for armed robbery, his daugther-in-law is a drug addict, and his grandchildren are living with him and hating him for it.
To add to his pain is the fact that his beloved wife unexpectedly died while still in the prime of her life leaving him alone to struggle with his job and his family. Ulee (short for Ulysses) is a man on the verge of complete emotional shutdown.
Ulee is a beekeeper continuing to do the job that his father and grandfather before him had done. Beekeeping is a hard job for a young man, let alone someone who is in his mid 50s with declining physical stamina.
The more the job takes a toll on him physically, he is also faced with the fact that his family is facing its greatest need for him emotionally. Ulee is reaching the end of his rope.
And then the redemption begins. Like most of us, we often resent one more demand placed upon us to do something that we don't want to do. In Ulee's case, it is a request from his son in prison to find out where his missing daugther-in-law is located and make sure she is safe.
Ulee has not talked to his son in months and his request reopens the wound of his pain.
There is no one in this film who is free from the prison that pain and withdrawal has caused, except for an unmarried woman doctor who lives across the street. When she tries to provide even a casual dose of love and compassion, Ulee's grandchildren lap it up like wayfarers stranded on the edge of a desert without any water.
Driven by concern for his grandchildren, Ulee answers his son's plea and seeks to find his daugther-in-law. What he discovers when he finds her is a part of his son's underworld past which threatens their very existence. She is staying in the company of the other two suspects who had joined Ulee's son in their armed robbery.
Apparently his son held out a significant amount of money from the robbery and didn't let his other two accomplices know this. Having discovered this information from the drug-induced daughter-in-law, they have now decided to hold Ulee's family hostage until Ulee can locate the money for them.
As Ulee's love for his grandchildren forces his emotions to reawaken, he makes several choices which begin to heal his family. His first choice is to ask his neighbor, the doctor, if she will help him lead his daughter-in-law through a process of withdrawal and detoxification. This act of compassion for a stranger wins the admiration and gratitude of Ulee and his grandchildren.
When Ulee is held at gunpoint by his son's accomplices, he takes every opportunity to try to defuse the situation and not return evil for evil. Even when he could turn their gun on them, he throws it in the lake and rejects violence as the answer.
And, when he takes the family to finally visit his son in prison, he slowly opens his heart and his arms to him as the returning prodigal son. His son, in turn, asks his father if, when he comes home, he can follow in his footsteps and become a beekeeper, and the two of them are caught in a epiphanal moment of healing.
Whatever the cause of the pain in our lives, “Ulee's Gold” reminds us that there is always hope. By giving to even the most undeserving, Ulee finds that his own life is healed in the process.