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The Butler (2013)
Film Reviewer on the Go ~ The Butler ~ And Racism in America
I love going to see films when I don't know the story I am about to view. I found The Butler to be this kind of film. It is a powerful and meaningful work on par with Twelve Years a Slave. The Butler is well-made and deals with important topics everyone can reflect upon. As I watched, I recalled vaguely hearing a piece on NPR about black butlers in the white house. This job has been a time-honored tradition; even now that Obama is president.
The Butler opens in a time when the concept of slavery had ended with the Civil War and our Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. These Amendments were like any constructed piece of legislation, intended for a greater good that would take-hold slowly as people's accepted attitudes adjusted. Social change occurs at glacially slow speeds, especially legislated ones. This being the case, the former slaves depicted in this story in 1923 were extremely ill treated in most every way.
We follow the life of Cecil Gaines from the time he watches his parents brutalized on the plantation they work on. After that event, Cecil is brought into the house, as a reparation of sorts for what his father had and mother would continue to go through. As soon as Cecil, played by the unquestionably talented Forest Whitaker, was eighteen, he walked right off the plantation into the unpromising unknown.
Cecil is polite and intelligent enough so that even without connections or much of a chance, he becomes a very well regarded servant in high-class white establishments. This leads him to be able to afford a wife at home, a car, and two strapping, educated sons. His abilities also lead him to a coveted position working inside the White House. He and the black staff are regarded as, what is referred to in the film, house n's. The men and women are polite and well trained adults who serve quietly without complaint.
In the midst of Cecil's job working for some of the most powerful men and occasional women in America, his oldest son Louis is accepted to Fisk University. Louis looks at what he and his family are allowed and not allowed to do in their current society. As Louis is young, strong, and outraged by the social injustice surrounding him, he joins the Freedom Riders at Fisk.
In between domestic occurrences at the Gaines' home and an array of foreign policy negotiations and changing presidents in the White House, we see at the center of the Civil Rights Movement Louis and his young friends. Louis and his young cohorts are symbolic of an America that was forced at gunpoint and by the deaths of hundreds of thousands of sons to give up slavery. Clawing at the freshly dug up farm fields, many Americans were forced to look at their white superiority claims and demanded to give them up. Our countries' brave African American's and people who fought along side them for social justice went through horrific events to come to the stage of integration we are at today. It was difficult to watch human beings shown burning and beating one another over things like who can or can't sit at a counter seat in a diner. Some of the Southern white people shown fighting against social change did so behind hooded masks, while burning Christian crosses behind them. I pointed out to some students the other day that slavery ended just a mere one hundred and forty-eight years ago, not even a hundred and fifty years have gone by since that time.
While details of this film have been altered from the actual events of Cecil's real life, the impact of the message remains the same. We as a country need to take a hard look at ourselves; where we came from and where we are headed to socially, morally, and ethically. It doesn't hurt that big-name talented actors such as Oprah, Cuba Gooding Junior, Robin Williams, Lenny Kravitz, John Cusack, and scores of other well-known performers attached themselves to the cast of this production. The message that remains is that: it is no small thing that we as a country had a slave system here that lasted for two hundred years, and now have our first black president. The film points gallantly at a past we need to remember and know about. When we look around us in our social settings, we will perhaps recognize how segregated we still are today, and that we have a ways to go as an educated and caring society.
The Invisible Woman (2013)
Film Reviewer on the Go
I saw The Invisible Woman by Ralph Fiennes Monday night. The film is about Charles Dickens; played by Fiennes, and his young lover Nelly; played by Felicity Jones. Dickens meets Nelly during the height of his career. The film highlights what options there were for ladies of that time. Nelly's family was made up of lady actors with considerable skills. These skills allowed them to book job after job. It was determined that Nelly's acting was sub par though she was very well read and versed in all things literate and theatric. Her mother notices immediately Charles inclinations towards her youngest daughter Nelly. Not only does the actual actress possess good clarity of emotions shown through subtle changes in her eyes and facial expressions, but also Felicity is able to perform the flat acting for her character, which the character is accused of doing by her thespian family.
Along with her mother's immediate notice of Charles fondness for Nelly, Charles's wife Catherine notices Charles's visage as he perks up greatly in Nelly's presence. The only one not to take notice of Charles's fancy is the barely eighteen-year old herself. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop her mother Frances from putting Nelly directly in Mr. Dickens path. Frances feels this is Nelly's best chance at acquiring resources for living a decent life. Nelly had been an admirer of Dickens's work and of his careful cultivation of the written and spoken word. When she is awakened to what is being orchestrated for her, she feels greatly unjust for the loss and cruelty Dickens exhibits towards the mother of his numerous children, Catherine, as he pursues her instead.
The film speaks to the trials many women have gone through over the ages; of not being in a social standing equivalent to men, of not being allowed to pursue work and lovers with the same nod of approval and understanding society allows for men, and of not being paid the same as men for the same work. Options given to ladies, even educated and cultivated ones, resort to the comforts their bodies offer in flesh, mind, and spirit. Men are free to roam the cabin and go out into the greater world to frolic as they wish. Meanwhile the women, Dickens's wife and his lover, are left with plenty of resources; a place to live, children, and food, but these ladies are not seemingly able to go in search of ambitions of their own. Their lot is to wait for the attentions of one selfish but successful man's desires and whims.
The saving grace for Nelly in the film is that she very much loved Dickens, he left her in good standing as far as her material needs, and their love was quiet enough that it didn't harm her reputation as she was simply his kept woman. She goes on to live a full if haunted life, remarries, teaches school children acting, and has a child with her husband.
It is a film that speaks to the ages. Charles's success in career and in becoming more than he was as a child, is a prominent feature of Dickens's life as portrayed in this film. He was gregarious, charming, and well sought after to speak, read, and act his writings and plays. The artist felt emptiness in his personal life, though he soared in his career's success. His poor wife Catherine was left wearily trailing in his path. Still a living breathing artist, he found new heights to experience in his new love. I don't know that the human condition, that seeks happiness in coupling with another, is ever one that is fully satisfied. A delicious film all around with room to ponder life's what ifs.