Wednesday, February 28, 2007

North Country

(Movie Review)

Shoko and I had just finished eating dinner, and Shoko said, “I want to watch that ‘North Country’ movie I rented.”

“Can’t we watch something else,” I said.

“No,” said Shoko. “You’re always using my TV to watch your movies. Tomorrow’s my day off and I want to watch one of my movies.”

“But can’t we at least watch something of mutual interest?” I asked. “I really have no interest at all in that movie.”

“Really? But this is about discrimination and workers rights. This is the kind of movie you’re always renting,” Shoko countered.

That got me thinking, why was I so against seeing this movie? After all, I consider myself at least relatively progressive on women’s issues. I’ve marched for women’s rights, I’ve signed petitions, I’ve written articles, but ask me to watch a 2 hour movie on the subject? Noooooo! Am I a closet misogynist after all?

At the risk of excusing myself, allow me to suggest that I’m not atypical in this regard, and that this movie has not been on the top rental list of most men, even among us progressives. But why? Because it’s a movie about women?

But I recalled how excited I was when I once found a movie about Rosa Luxembourg at the public library. Or how I sat through all of “Reds” just because it had a short bit where Emma Goldman was portrayed in it. Or all the books I’ve read dealing with these two women, not to mention Louise Michel, Angela Davis or Bernadine Dorn.

And again, allow me to suggest that I’m not unique in this aspect either. In fact I’d hazard a guess that Rosa Luxembourg and Emma Goldman are more a subject of male fascination than female. If you hang out in the testosterone filled, pseudo-intellectual revolutionary wannabe male circles at any college campus you’ll find Luxembourg and Goldman referred to with a large amount of awe and reverence, but not so much Susan B. Anthony. Why?

I guess the obvious answer is Susan B. Anthony was a campaigner for woman’s rights, and Rosa Luxembourg and Emma Goldman were working together with male colleagues for general social revolution. Although both Luxembourg and Goldman were feminists, they were also big players in the male dominated sphere of politics. Rosa Luxembourg toppled the German government, and Emma Goldman inspired the assassination of a US President.

There is, to state the obvious, a gender gap in what kind of stories and movies interest men and women. We can quibble later whether this is a socialized or innate difference, but I don’t think anyone will agree with the initial premise. And “North Country” has chick flick written all over it. A single mother struggling to support her family, dealing with her angry teenage son, and her frayed relationship with her own parents. Throw in a friend slowly dying of a terminal illness, and some sappy courtroom drama, and I think its safe to say this is one for the ladies.

But actually, as the film went on, I got kind of interested in it. In fact half way through Shoko got bored and fell asleep, and I was the one who finished it all the way to the end. It was cheesy and over the top at points (I'm thinking specifically of a courtroom scene in which a witness suddenly reverses his testimony just because of being asked the same question over and over by the lawyer).

But it was absolutely amazing what these women had to put up with at the mine. I found myself almost disbelieving it at points. Not necessarily disbelieving that we men could be such pigs, but that these women would wait so long before they finally filled for a class action suit after all that happened to them. 50 years go maybe, but this story was shown as being concurrent with the Anita Hill hearings. However the movie did try and give lots of reasons why these women were scared of losing their jobs.

The DVD extra feature has interviews with the real women behind the story, which is very interesting, although it does sometimes indicate a slight disconnect between the kind of harassment these women faced in real life, and the full out assault they undergo in the film. Also in the movie it was one lone woman fighting both her male colleagues and her fellow women, but in the interviews it sounded like a lot of women were in on this class action suit together. But, that's Hollywood, right?

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Pygmies were a tribe of diminutive humans in Greek mythology
They were involved in a constant war with the cranes, which migrated in winter to their homeland on the southern shores of the earth-encircling river Oceanus. The old Greek poet Homer was the first to describe the battle.
In art the scene was popular with little Pygmies armed with spears and slings, riding on the backs of goats, battling the flying cranes. They were often portrayed as pudgy, comical dwarfs.
the term "Pygmy" remained essentially mythological until applied by nineteenth century European explorers to people they encountered

Link of the Day
As someone who could never have toy guns growing up, I thought this article on childhood gun play was interesting.

North Country: Movie Review (Scripted)


SN said...

i thought that this movie was really good also. I can't agree with you about it being a chick flick though. the film made me really angry with guys that take advantage of women. like you said, it was unreal what some of these women had to go through (and still go through today). It made me want to kick someones ass.

Joel Swagman said...

Re-reading this 5 years later--and would like to apologize to everyone for this review. Sorry, sometimes I just write a lot of stupid stuff.