Sometimes a Great Notion—the second of five films directed by Paul Newman, based on the novel by Ken Kesey—is impressive and frustrating. Impressive because it visually (and beautifully) captures the raw art of logging. In one scene, the tallest of trees falls toward a camera shooting from the ground—you get a view of what it would be like for a tree to be the last thing you see in this world. The film also captures the feel of this part of the planet, the Northwest towns, beaches, and rural roads. As for Sometimes's frustrating side, it all has to do with the story about the proud stubbornness of one family, appropriately named the Stampers. There is a strike in the area, but the Stampers refuse to join it and the union because of principles: They want to maintain their independence and also fulfill the contract they have with the big lumber company. Meanwhile, the people in the town are suffering because they can't break the will of the company without support from the Stampers. In the struggle against the mighty, the weak must become one. The Stampers are wrong to betray the townspeople; they (four men, the oldest of whom is Henry Fonda) should join the union, should side with their class and its interests. They never do.
But maybe this is the wrong way to view this fascinating work. It can also be seen as a movie about the end of unionized logging (and unionized anything) in America. By the end of the decade (the film was made in 1970), Ronald Reagan will enter power and begin weakening the economic and political positions of unions. The Stampers are not being stubborn but realistic. Soon, all work will be about the surface of contracts rather than the lifelong narrative of secure work, pensions, and health insurance. The Stampers, however, do pay a heavy price for their unrelenting commitment to that one and only contract: Their family is destroyed.