Writer & Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Alano Miller, Terry Abney, Nick Kroll, Bill Camp
Contemporary American cinema rarely produces a feature film of such undeniable excellence as Jeff Nichols’ “Loving”. These days, Hollywood is obsessed with spectacle, fantasy and escapism—serious, intelligent dramas only rarely making it past the “pitch” stage.
Somehow Nichols’ work has escaped the creative grinder and over the past decade or so he has presented us with a number of well-scripted, superbly acted films that, genre-wise, run the gamut from family drama to science fiction. “Mud”, “Shotgun Stories”, “Take Shelter”; quality movies that don’t stoop to please or pander to audience expectations. Even in “Midnight Special”, to my mind his least successful film, Nichols’ ear for dialogue and sense of character never desert him.
“Loving” is Jeff Nichols’ most complete, accomplished effort to date. Based on a true story (how I usually loathe those words), the movie tells of how Richard and Mildred Loving struggled to have their 1958 inter-racial marriage recognized by the state of Virginia, eventually winning their battle in a landmark 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States. Those are the essential “facts”.
The couple’s courageous efforts to overturn racist miscegenation laws was originally portrayed in a 2011 documentary, “The Loving Story” (directed by Nancy Buirski). Nichols saw the documentary and immediately recognized its dramatic possibilities (Ms. Buirski co-produces “Loving”).
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are perfect as Richard and Mildred, their onscreen chemistry apparent from the moment they appear in the same frame together. Viewers have no difficulty believing that these two have enormous affection for each other and will endure tremendous hardship to retain their union. The supporting players are equally believable and authentic, and here I call special attention to Sharon Blackwood, who plays “Lola”, Richard’s mother. She’s a rural midwife and healer, strong and tough as nails, her appearances brief and always memorable.
But, as ever, the real star of any Nichols film is the script and it’s here that he excels. By refusing to infuse his drama with ridiculous incident and overwrought sentiment, the film-maker shows a willingness to treat his audience as adults, a refreshing and welcome approach. There’s a remarkable scene about 2/3 of the way through “Loving”, when one of Richard Loving’s drunken companions, a black man who has suffered discrimination every waking moment of his life, taunts his friend: “Now you know what it feels like”. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable moment, a reminder that the Mason-Dixon line wasn’t merely geographic, it carved a jagged demarcation through the very soul of a nation, dividing human beings for the most specious and revolting reasons.
That separation is just as apparent, just as stark today. Black lives matter…and any written law or deeply ingrained prejudice that insists one colour or gender or religion supersedes another defames our entire species and diminishes any claims we might have that we have achieved a truly just or civil society.
“Loving” reminds us that though the times have changed, old attitudes linger.
Slavery, segregation, race hatred are historical traumas that will not go away and no interval of time will wash them from the collective consciousness.
Like any sin, they are eternal and can only be absolved by a genuine feeling of contrition on the part of the transgressor, and expressions of forgiveness from those we have wronged.