Tom Joad returns to his home after a jail sentence to find his family kicked out of their farm due to foreclosure. He catches up with them on his Uncles farm, and joins them the next day as they head for California and a new life... Hopefully. Written by
Colin Tinto <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Ford's stark portrayal of a poor family in the depression remains one of the most moving films in history.
The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Joad family, who are run off of their land in Oklahoma because of drought and poverty. I think that one of the most striking elements of this movie is the black and white cinematography. Obviously, there wasn't a lot of variation on this particular subject in 1940, but especially today, the lack of color enhances the feelings of poverty and desperation and emptiness due to the family's loss of their home. In this way, because it would not be nearly as noticeable in 1940 as it is today, this time-enhanced effect of the black and white film stock has allowed for the film's impact to actually grow with time.
Henry Fonda plays the part of Tom Joad, a young member of the family who is released from prison at the beginning of the film, only to find that his family has been driven from their home and is staying at his uncle's house until they can figure out what to do about their sudden homelessness. It is by pure coincidence that Tom was released early on good behavior, otherwise he may very well never have seen his family again. He finds them in a state of near desperation, as they begin more and more to realize the predicament that they are in. Their trek across half of the country, on their way to California to assume jobs that they've heard about, provides for a substantial portion of the plot and is extremely well-structured.
The family encounters every hardship imaginable on this journey, from family members dying to their struggle to feed themselves to their rickety old truck constantly breaking down. They run into disillusioned people who claim that they've been to California and there are really no jobs there, at least not nearly as many as there are people going to look for them. They are periodically and derogatorily referred to as `Okies,' a term which places them in a broad category of poor folks driven from there homes in middle America who are traveling to the coast to get jobs that aren't there. There is so much doubt and hardship presented that it is never really certain whether they really will find jobs. The audience is never able to assume a happy ending, because there is so much contrary foreshadowing throughout the film.
The struggles do not abate once the family reaches California and takes up shaky residence in residential areas that would be more accurately referred to as shanty towns, and the rest of the film is dominated by the family's efforts to survive in a new and unfamiliar place, while working for wages that are barely sufficient to prevent starvation. Ma Joad spends the majority of the film stressing the importance of keeping the family together, seeing it as the only thing that they really had left, but this is eventually set aside in favor of each member of the family not only surviving but also flourishing, which provides for one of the many powerful messages that the film delivers.
The Grapes of Wrath is not exactly an edge of your seat film, but it is a shockingly realistic portrayal of the suffering that so many people and families experienced during the Great Depression. The performances are flawless, and the experience is not only powerful and moving but also educational. It's no secret that most people do not watch movies to learn, but there comes a point, at least once in a great while, when a person should watch a film that requires a little mental thought processing, and in such cases, The Grapes of Wrath is an excellent choice.
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