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9 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

A heroine properly sung

7/10
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
13 June 2002

Margaret Higgins Sanger has earned her place in human history, and for more reasons than she, or most of us, could know. Her experiences in her own family taught her that population control could help relieve suffering and poverty, and she was willing to pay for the opporunity to make that argument in public, as were a number of her colleagues and kinsmen. But her achievements go far beyond that. From an evolutionary perspective, Homo sapiens is an extraordinarily adaptive animal, due in large part to the incredible complexity of the brains we carry around with us. That three pounds of convoluted tissue has enabled us to vastly improve (and hurry) our adaptation by substituting cultural change for biological change. We don't need to wait around for natural selection to give us wings of flesh and blood. We can invent the airplane. This same success is the greatest threat to our continued existence. Organisms who dominate their environments to the extent that we now do follow an almost identical trajectory in their population growth. Keeping this as brief as possible, the growth curve is S shaped. It starts low and then shoots up like a Scud missile. Unless culture put and end to that skyrocketing growth, then nature itself does, through what Malthus called "vice" and "misery." And Margaret Sanger was one of the individuals who, wittingly or not, promoted the cause of ending that skyrocketing growth by limiting the number of offspring we have. If she hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to invent her. Homo sapiens hasn't solved its population problem yet -- take a look at what's happening in the Amazon rainforest -- but without Sanger's contribution we would undoubtedly be even worse off than we are. Whether we can grasp the lesson she tried to teach in time or not is an empirical question that time will answer.

The movie is not extremely demanding, more like a Classic Comics version of Sanger's career. But it's not badly done either. Sanger is capable of being politely sarcastic towards her likeable and well-meaning Irish father. And her nemesis, Anthony Comstock, stops a mob of old-fashioned members of New York's finest from clobbering some poor guy who has been printing Sanger's birth-control pamphlets. Dana Delaney is an entrancing actress, combining as she does a sort of nurturant, almost motherly quality with a good deal of sex appeal, and doing this without being staggeringly beautiful, and despite the beastly wardrobe. Her delivery is understated, as it was in "China Beach." And it seems appropriate that she should be cast opposite Rod Steiger as Comstock who brings the kind of technique and personality to his role as moral gatekeeper that seems designed to pop the safety valve on every pressure cooker in turn-of-the-century New York. Poor Comstock was fighting a losing battle. There has rarely been the kind of florescence in pornography that there was in the Victorian world. Not since Rome. Perhaps it takes that degree of sexual repression to produce such sublimely erotic art. You can't have a community of Dr. Jeyklls without a few Mr. Hydes popping out now and then. Incidentally Comstock achieved his own peculiar brand of fame. When Freudianism was in flower he was frequently used as an example of an ego defense mechanism called "reaction formation." (The notion was actually put together by Freud's daughter, Anna, a psychoanalyst in her own right.) Someone using "reaction formation" as a defense mechanism is compelled to seek out by socially approved means the very thing he loathes and lusts after. For Sam Spade, it was danger. For Comstock it was sex. Imagine all the filthy photographs and books and paintings he needed to plow through in order to judge them unfit for public display. Nice work if you can get it.

This movie is fairly accurate historically, and period New York is nicely rendered out of its Canadian locations. You know what would be interesting? Showing this film in a high school or college class.

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