Loving (Jeff Nichols, 2016)

A little bit of a reprieve from the political mess that has encapsulated our country over the last two weeks would be easier if cinema, especially cinema of cultural importance, wasn’t inherently political. Yet, I found myself at home in the theater, away from the endless news cycles and back and forth typing warfares of the people I follow on twitter. It’s a miracle, cinema is, because for those two hours I have absolutely zero urgency to look at my phone or read what anyone else is writing about or give a flying crap over what’s “trending”. If political unrest is an inescapable part of American life now, as I have found it is, at least let me write and think about it through the lens of cinema. I am planning on making a concerted effort henceforth of mostly gearing my attention back towards movies, and writing about social and political discourse through the ideas of film and filmmakers. Whether I succeed in this is unknown to me… but let this be a start.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in his Tony Awards acceptance speech, using only two words repeated over and over: “Love is love is love is love is love is love”. Such is the plot and focus of Jeff Nichols’ latest story from rural working-class America, Loving. It’s a true story about one of the most famous American court cases (Loving v. Virginia) which ruled restrictions on interracial marriage as Un-Consistutional. The film forgoes the many tribulations that Mildred Delores Loving (played tenderly by Ruth Negga) and Richard Perry Loving (the best performance of Joel Edgerton’s career) must endure before finding any breakthrough in their case, and rather devotes most of its runtime to depicting their family life and their mutual love for one another. This is Nichols’ greatest directorial choice and what sets the film apart from most civil rights motion pictures. There are heart-wrenching moments of course, when Richard and Mildred are woken up in the middle of the night by the sheriff and dragged and locked up in the cell. These work as a shock element, to establish an entity for us to root against. Yet, the most emotional elements of the film, and what makes it resonate on a human level, is the simple moments shared between the couple. When they cuddle on the couch to watch an old TV serial together, or when they’re having dinner with their kids, or when they are simply sitting beside each other on their bed wondering if their love will ever be recognized as real. The appeal court cases are never shown. The faces of the Supreme Court Justices are blurred. The press hullaballoo is limited only to a small gaggle outside the courthouses, who are easily dismissed, and dissenting public opinions are rendered mute. All of this justified, because there isn’t a necessity to establish an “enemy” in human form against the right to marry. The love between the couple shouldn’t require an adversary to justify its truth with us. Even the reaction to the ultimate ruling is simply a smile and a nod because the idea that two people’s love can be considered illegal is in an of itself a ridiculous and unethical notion. Ruth gets off the phone and goes to sit beside Richard as he lays concrete bricks. Whether she tells him the result of the Supreme Court decision or not is besides the point. To them, no ruling minimizes the truth in their love. Even it was ruled illegal, it would still be real.