A Film Written & Directed by Jeff Nichols
This Oscar season has nearly been obliterated in MY mind by the recent election. My mood has been dark and fearful, like so many others. I love movies and don’t appreciate the intrusion of this wacky turn of events in MY homeland. So. Finally, I ventured to a screening last night – my first of this season’s Oscar screenings.
I approached this film stealthily – tired of racism and all its sorry derivatives. But, I was intrigued by this story because its result signaled a major change – if not in behavior at least in the letter of the law. I was vaguely aware of the story of Mildred and Richard Loving – as I am of so many of our sorry tales of racism and woe. Gets hard to hold all of it in one’s head without a brain implosion, but here we are, holding our brains in with our gnarled hands.
“Loving” is a quiet film. That’s one of the things I loved most about it. No screaming, no gunfire, no stereotypical fat-bellied racists with ragged cigars, no lynching, no disappeared black folks. Just these two unlikely people – he with his blond blunt cut hair and her, looking like something from another planet, beautiful. But, do not be deceived. The violence is pressed down, the fear so internalized, so much a part of existence that you can barely distinguish it from a carefree life. Except in their eyes. It’s their love that assuages the horror of this madness called racism. Back then – the late 50’s – if you were white and the person you loved was black, you could not marry. You could live “in sin” but you were not allowed to be legally married. Happy to report, these two lovebirds kept right on loving and making babies. Eventually their case wound up in the Supreme Court, which thankfully ruled that the dreadful law defining their marriage as illegal and against God, was unconstitutional. How sweet is that?
It’s Jeff Nichols’ style of film making that touched me. He captured the exquisite beauty of the southern countryside and their connection to it. They were born there, fell in love there, wanted to be there. They knew who they were and what they wanted. Society was not ready for them. But, nothing kept these two people apart, not even the threat of jail or worse. There is no greater love story than that.
When they must move to D.C. to be legally married and not thrown in jail, the noise, the hardness, the sirens, the children playing near traffic, the horror that our cities can be was grating. When they got back to Virginia, I was afraid for them, but I also understood why. The film’s pace is slow, calm, deep, with little breakouts of wired intensity. These performances are miraculous. Neither main actor is American. Their work is fine, textured, subtle, emotionally full, pressed down hearts so full of love they spring up and out into the world. Wow.