Just in time for Valentine’s Day, A&O Productions offered the Northwestern community a chance to see one of the most powerful love stories created for the silver screen in 2016: Loving.
The film follows the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Joel Edgerton and Academy Award-nominated Ruth Negga), an interracial couple living in Caroline County, Virginia, who choose to get married in the District of Columbia in 1958, despite anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and 16 other states. Over a period of nine years, the couple encounters struggle after struggle as they attempt to build a life together, ultimately leading them to bring their case before the Supreme Court.
While the case, Loving v. Virginia, is one of the best-known legal battles in the U.S., the audience sees next to nothing of the courtroom or of Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, the ACLU lawyers who argued the case. Instead, director Jeff Nichols focuses entirely on the Lovings themselves, who actually never appeared before the Supreme Court. Scenes from everyday life move the story forward, from Richard laying foundation during his days at work to Mildred feeding her children. Nevertheless, the film never lags, keeping viewers engaged with numerous emotional moments as the Lovings face disapproval, harassment and even jail time for simply trying to create and care for a family.
As with any film based on a true story, one of the biggest questions is accuracy. Pictures like Shakespeare in Love, Stonewall or Pearl Harbor may give the audience a compelling story, but in the end it is just a story – the plot or the depictions of the time period are often riddled with historically inaccurate details. Loving does a wonderful job of staying true to the real narrative, especially given the nine years the film had to document to tell the story. Some of Loving’s most crucial moments come directly from firsthand reports: for example, the night that the Lovings are first arrested for the crime of marrying each other unfolds the same way it did in reality, according to biographical sources.
Negga and Edgerton deliver believable performances as the unassuming title characters in a drama that paved the way for interracial marriage across the country. There are no giant displays of passion or frustration from the actors; their portrayal of the Lovings is more subtle. They are simply two regular individuals seeking something seemingly quite ordinary: the ability to raise a family in their home state. Vibrant scenes of rolling Virginia fields in summer and fall help the audience share in the Lovings’ pining for their home when they are forced to move to the drab city limits of the District of Columbia.
The initial looming villains of the story, the sheriff who catches the Lovings and the judge who sentences them, seem to fall out of the piece a little quickly as the battle switches from a personal struggle to a more universal one. However, the lack of a sense of closure with these characters almost makes more sense in light of how the actual struggle played out. The Lovings were not just fighting racist law enforcement in the state of Virginia, they were fighting a larger racist philosophy that justified the law that kept them from marrying. Overall, the film is a beautiful take on the lives of two individuals who changed the course of history by simply trying to love each other, as their last names and the film’s title would suggest.