“Loving” – A Married Man’s Perspective
By Jacob Wampfler
Immediately after my screening of Loving concluded, I texted my wife. The text message read, “I love you. I know I take for granted what we have together, far too often but…I love you.” Loving was, for me, an introspective and emotional film that caused me to examine my own marriage and contemplate the unsettling reality of Richard and Mildred Loving’s story. I have never been told that I cannot be with my wife. I have never had my personal rights or space violated because I choose to love the woman to whom I am married. Jeff Nichols and his powerful film convey the long-suffering triumph of two people who refused to stop fighting for one another. And at the very center of that story lies a simple message summed up in the words of Richard Loving, “Tell the judge that I love my wife.” This may be a film about a landmark Supreme Court decision. But moreso, it’s about Mildred and Richard and their love for each other.
I had the opportunity to see this film in St. Louis at a small art-house theater I used to frequent when I lived in the area. As the theater began to fill up for an almost sold-out showing, I looked around me to notice that the audience was populated with couples of all ages and demographics. The one demographic that stood out to me most, however, were the interracial couples who had come to see Loving. It struck me that these couples, during the time in which Loving took place, would not have been allowed to see a movie together in many parts of our country. As the film progressed and finally, as the credits rolled, I heard the emotional sound of sobbing throughout the theater. As I walked out that night, I saw one interracial couple grasping hands together, leaning towards each other with tears streaming down their faces. That image has imprinted itself in my memory…and this is why Loving is important filmmaking.
There is a recurring theme in Loving that has stuck with me since I saw the film about a month ago. Richard Loving is a mason by trade. He goes to work each day with his tools and lunch pail in hand. In a lesser film, this could quickly become cliche. However, Nichols uses this aspect of Richard’s life to communicate something magnificent. Over and over again, we see Richard with trowel and mortar laying brick on top of brick. At the beginning of the film, he tells Mildred he will build a house for her one day. At the end of the film, he builds that house for her in their home-state of Virginia, the very place from which they had been exiled for their previously unlawful union. Mildred and Richard didn’t help to change the Constitution of the United States overnight. They did it slowly, painfully, and not without setback along the way. Brick by brick, they built their love for another. Brick by brick, they made history together. Loving is a fitting testament to and celebration of Richard and Mildred Loving, and it is an essential film of our time.
The Relevance of “Loving” in Trump’s America
By Sam Wampfler
I knew, going into Loving, that it was going to be a difficult movie to watch. It is a film set in a time when our country not only had bigoted and hate filled ideas, but also had the legal means to act on those ideas in often times brutal and unforgiving ways. That being said, I greatly enjoyed Loving. The makers of this film did everything right.
The casting was phenomenal. The lead actors, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, played the roles of the tormented interracial couple perfectly. Negga especially was breathtaking. Her portrayal of Mildred Loving was strong and confident yet extremely caring. Even the minor roles in this movie were extremely important and perfectly acted. Nick Kroll, normally known for comedic antics, plays completely against type as the lawyer that initially takes on their case and Michael Shannon, as a man assigned to photograph the couple, adds new layers to some already emotional scenes.
Loving is also a very beautiful film. It is so beautiful that for the first half of the film I was so immersed in the visuals that I didn’t even realize how relevant the concepts of the film are to post-election America. Then at about half way through the film I realized just how screwed up America once was and just how screwed up we might become very soon.
The racist tendencies of our country have never disappeared and they never really will. As I mentioned before, the era that Loving is set in had no laws against the prejudiced actions of its citizens. Now that a man that could pass as one of the “villains” in Loving has been elected as president, it is very possible that we could end up with an America that looks far too much like the America we see in Loving. The growing prevalence of these completely racist beliefs in modern day America scares the crap out of me. The resurgence of open racist acts by some Americans days after the election definitely contribute to this fear. Hopefully my fears are unfounded.
“Loving” is the Rare Biopic That Is Both Accurate and Artful
By Josiah Wampfler
Biopics have become sort of a cliche, especially if they come out in the fall. Many follow the same types of plot beats, they are usually dripping in melodrama as they chase awards attention and, in general, I usually get pretty bored with a lot of them. Hacksaw Ridge and Sully earlier this fall were guilty of almost all of the biopic sins I mentioned. They were passable films, but they never really transcended the “genre” and overall I was just plain bored with them. Thankfully, 2016 has finally brought us a transcendent biopic in Loving: a film that manages to not only be true to its subjects, but also is told with an artistic eye.
Directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who famously were the couple behind the supreme court case, Loving v. Virginia, that ended laws against interracial marriage throughout the country. Going into a film such as that, one may expect a typical courtroom drama that shows the harassment that both the lawyers and the Lovings faced. And while we do see much of the harassment the Lovings themselves faced, the courtroom is almost completely absent from the film. Nichols instead knew that the best version of this story would be to focus on what was truly important in it: the Lovings themselves.
As a result, Loving is a very subdued, quiet film that reflects the real people its characters are based upon. These weren’t revolutionaries like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King. Mildred Loving certainly helped a lot of other people in pushing their case to the ACLU, but in the end they were two people that loved each other that just wanted to be left alone to raise their family. And Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do a spectacular job of portraying that. Edgerton’s Richard is a man of few words who is quite the reluctant participant in the whole ordeal. Negga’s Mildred on the other hand starts off quite timid, but as the film progresses she really takes charge and ends up being the really driving force in the relationship. And their chemistry together is absolutely palpable.
Now, Jeff Nichols, may not seem like the right man to tell a story like this, and even he has said he had his doubts at first. I mean, you wouldn’t think the white guy behind Mud and Take Shelter would be directing a biopic about the Lovings, but after seeing the film he made, I think there is no doubt he was the perfect person for the job. Not only does he take great care in getting the characters right, but he is exactly the type of sure-handed director that this story needed. He doesn’t get too flashy and he lets the characters really be the driving force behind the film. His obvious affinity for stories about huge anxiety inducing forces bearing down on people certainly helps the film as well, as he not only shows the obvious harassment the Lovings face, but the psychological torment they bare. And his experience of growing up in the south certainly comes through in the film, as he tackles the issue of race in quite complex ways that we don’t often see in films. There is even a brilliant conversation about white privilege in which Richard is made aware of the fact that he is the rare white man that has had a small glimpse into what black people at the time were facing.
The complexity Nichols brings to the film as well as his willingness to let character drive it is exactly what makes Loving a truly great biopic. In many ways, it is quite conventional, but Nichols always finds ways to either subvert convention or just do conventional things really really well. I think the moment in the film that really sums up the genius of it also happens to be where Nichols’ favorite actor, Michael Shannon, enters. His character, a photographer for LIFE magazine, comes by the house to take pictures of the Lovings. And while he is there, he is able to capture Mildred and Richard’s true selves as they eat and joke around the dinner table, wash dishes and finally, he snaps the most iconic shot of the couple: Richard lying his head on Mildred’s lap as they are perched on the couch laughing at the TV. Not only was this one of my favorite scenes, but it also represents everything the film is: a subtle look at the humanity of two people who loved each other very much.