After gangster Mulligan's (Willem Dafoe's) cars colony, fleeing northern justice, finds a hiding place in Alabama, spoiled, naive daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) refuses to travel on after seeing the Manderlay cotton plantation being run under slavery rules, called Mam's (Lauren Bacall's) law, including flogging. She keeps half of dad's goons as guard to force the dying matriarch-owner's heirs, which she shamelessly dispossesses and reduces to "staff", to taste destitution under absurd, gun-imposed contracts. The "slaves" are made free partners, supposed to vote for progress after lessons from Grace. But almost all of her democracy-pupils prove to be fickle, dumb, and selfish, except old Wilhelm (Danny Glover). Her and their ignorance in Southern planting and crafty Dixie ways means more problems are created then solved. By the time dad returns to pick her up or abandon her for good, she's the one who has learned and changed the most.Written by
Written and Performed by David Bowie
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Manderlay and the Election
I watched Manderlay in the run up to the Presidential Election. I was moved by it. The film is certainly topical with two weeks to go before we have the opportunity to possibly elect the first African-American President. I believe to do so would make statement to the people of the world that this experiment we're conducting with Freedom can work. What it has taken to get us to this point has been harrowing. This nation fought a Civil War, which helped to put an end to the institution of slavery. But there has been constant slippage (a polite word for the continued institutional racism) that led to the need for legislation to correct injustice. The Civil Rights era is now past and still racism continues. Blacks have had to continue to put their lives on the line to expand the Rights due them. We might now though witness the election of a black man as President. Racism will not end as a result of course but what a leap forward. It has taken the disaster of the past 8 years to get the country to the place where this is even possible. No W, no Obama.
Von Triers makes demanding films. I understand some people's aversion to his use of a sound-stage in both Manderlay and Dogville. It took me a bit of time in Dogville to adjust to the artifice. For me though, making the adjustment brought the issues and ideas he's dealing with to central focus in the film. No need for a real plantation in Manderlay. But the continuing enslavement does go on and it goes on in the film in the plantations of our mind. It goes on despite Grace's attempts to correct people's behaviors and beliefs and end the racism. We don't seem able to end it in this nation either.
Overall IMDb users have been much kinder to Manderlay than the critics have been. Many, perhaps a majority of the negative comments, take exception to the fact that Lars von Trier is a foreigner and worse yet a foreigner who has never set foot on American soil. That is not a problem for me. I have never been in Germany but I know that what happened in Germany and Europe in the 30's and 40's was wrong, was evil. My opinion as a non-German about the Holocaust and the war itself should not, cannot be discounted. It is probably more valuable for the German people to have a sense of what their actions created but am I not allowed to speak to those issues? Am I oversimplifying here? Perhaps.
I think, in some ways, von Trier's not being an American gives him some needed objectivity. I found the racial issues raised in Manderlay, to go to the heart of how racism works in this country. And right now in the United States of America we are witnessing a nation having to face it own demons concerning race once again. Many may not be able to vote for Barack Obama for no other reason that he is a Black Man. Many of those people will find another rationale for their vote.
I am glad I watched Manderlay at this time. It really does deal with some very crucial issues we as a nation have not always successfully faced. We have a chance to do something new but we need some clarity of vision about what we stand for as Free People. I feel Manderlay did a good job in helping clarify for me how we're all in this together. This was not an easy film for me to write about and I apologize for the political nature of what I have written.
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