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I first read Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf’s posthumously published sixth novel, a little over two years ago when it was released. It’s a slender book in which Haruf, one of Colorado’s most celebrated authors, tells the warmhearted story of Addie Moore and Louis Waters. They’re neighbors in Holt, have each lost their spouses, and, now in their later years, both live alone. In the opening chapter, Addie wanders over to Louis’ home and proposes something of a relationship, a “marriage-like question,” as she puts it: “I’m wondering if you would consider coming to my house sometime to sleep with me,” Addie says to Louis.
Addie’s suggestion isn’t meant to be sexual; rather, it’s about companionship, an antidote for the somber feelings that can set in during lonely times. It’s about having someone around to help you get through the night. “The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?” Addie says. Somewhat tentatively, Louis agrees. It’s a fascinating start to what becomes a tender love story—one that evidently caught the attention of acclaimed actor and director Robert Redford. Redford acquired the rights to Haruf’s novel and produced the film as an original for Netflix; he stars in the movie with Jane Fonda. Our Souls at Night—much of which was shot in Colorado—is available to stream this Friday, September 29, and will also air in select theaters, although, disappointingly, none are in the Centennial State.
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I got to know Haruf a little at the end of his life. (I wrote a piece titled “The Precious Ordinary” about his career and our brief friendship for this magazine in the spring of 2015.) I think Kent would have liked this movie. In the book, which Haruf wrote in the months preceding his death, Addie and Louis make the most of their unconventional beginning; it’s not only a chance at new love late in life, but, readers learn, it’s also an opportunity for each of them to work through missteps in past relationships. Along the way, the characters exude the sort of warmth and soulfulness that Haruf so skillfully infused into all his books. And both Redford and Fonda—especially Redford, I think—capture that essence particularly well.
Redford had been on the lookout for something he and Fonda could work on together. The pair hadn’t co-starred in a film in almost 40 years, since the 1979 romantic comedy The Electric Horseman. Redford recently said in an interview with Esquire magazine that as soon as he read Haruf’s novel he thought it would make for a good project for himself and Fonda. “So I sent her the book,” Redford told Esquire. “She sent it right back. ‘I’m in.’” Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose credits include (500) Days of Summer and The Fault in Our Stars, adapted the book, and Ritesh Batra, an indie filmmaker most well-known for his 2013 picture The Lunchbox, directed the movie. Our Souls at Night premiered earlier this month at the Venice Film Festival, where Redford and Fonda were both honored with lifetime achievement awards.
The first 25 minutes of the movie is almost entirely taken up by Louis and Addie feeling out the particulars of their new arrangement. On their first night together, Louis packs up a brown paper King Soopers bag with a few toiletries and a pair of pajamas and walks across the street. Addie offers him a glass of red wine; Louis asks if she has any beer, and Addie apologizes that she doesn’t and says she’ll make sure to have some next time. They attempt to start up a conversation. Louis mentions the weather; Addie scolds him and prods him to go a little deeper. “What else is there to talk about,” Louis says. Nevertheless, it all goes well enough that Louis returns the next night.
All of this works. Redford and Fonda are engaging at handling these seemingly mundane details, and they do so with the same charm and grace that exists in Haruf’s novel. Even as tension builds in the latter third of the film, and a few of the storylines involving Addie and Louis crescendo, the movie maintains a certain quiet beauty. That’s precisely what I’ve always loved about Haruf’s books: They’re all so quietly beautiful. Haruf was a master at that. Indeed, I think Haruf fans will appreciate how Redford and Fonda, and everyone else involved with the production, have handled his material. And in many ways, it feels like a good fit for Netflix—a movie to be shared and cherished with a loved one in the intimacy of your own home.