Loving (2016)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 20, 2016 @ tonymacklin.net.

Loving is a plaintive reminder of what once was. It also may be a harbinger.

Some movies now have a different resonance since the recent election. We now watch movies in a shifting environment. The president-elect has been adamant about giving decisions on some major issues back to the states. His Supreme Court seems likely to do that.

If it had been the present near future instead of 1967, the state of Virginia would have won the precedent-setting case Loving v. Virginia, instead of losing it.

Loving is the story of the actual people involved and how that decision came to be. In Virginia, white man Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) marries colored woman Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), and they are arrested for illegal cohabitation between the races. "It's God's law," a local lawman says.

In 1958 they go to Washington, D.C. to be married, then return to live together in their home in Caroline County, Virginia. One night the police break in to arrest them.They are charged, and the judge declares their marriage is "against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth."

They plead guilty when they are offered judgment that they won't be imprisoned but have to leave the state. They do, but eventually they go back home to Virginia to live with family and friends. They are arrested again, but the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court, which makes a landmark decision.

Loving could be a first-rate court drama, but there is limited footage in the court room. Instead writer/director Jeff Nichols focuses on the living spirit of the characters. As in Mud (1012) and Midnight Special (earlier this year), Nichols' concentration is on character. His films have a discernible humanity.

One of the ironies is that Mike Loving (the actual name is perfect) is a simple, hard-working, middle-class brick layer. He's no activist. He doesn't want trouble. He goes along, but he has the will to do the right thing. His wife Mildred may even have a stronger will.

Joel Edgerton - he of the knitted brows - emits decency as the somewhat taciturn Mike. Edgerton is able to convey palpable decency.

Ruth Negga credibly evokes the strength of a woman under great pressure.

When an attorney asks Mike what he wants him to tell the justices in the Supreme Court, he says, "Tell them I love my wife."

That love is what Nichols shows. I wish he hadn't included a statement on screen at the end which tells what happened to Mike and Mildred. It's unnecessary. He brought them to life on screen. There's a wonderful photograph of the actual couple. We don't need any further information.

The life in that photo is the essence of the film.

That's what makes America great.

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