Saturday, December 3, 2016

Brief thoughts on Loving.

Love is a very inexpiable feeling, taking on a wide array of various definitions and intentions, but is often best applied to that of romantic love. Itself one of the most powerful emotions to feel, as much as we may like to think we can, there's no explaining the very depths of it, or any use in restricting it. Yet that's precisely what the law tried to do for Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested and made pariahs for marrying each other, and subsequently took on the state of Virgina to legitimize their bond. It's a very modest story of accidental heroes who achieved greater things by small victories, and what makes their story in Loving such a compelling, reserved, deeply felt experience.

Jeff Nichols has quickly built up a reputation for his rural independent dramas since breaking out with Take Shelter, with that and his succeeding films Mud and Midnight Special being strong films focusing on very intimate, very emotionally potent tales of people facing off or coming to grips with things greater than themselves, yet they also have a strong but genuine sense of warmth to balance their darker traits. Loving is very much a similar travel down that road, complete with the obligatory Michael Shannon appearance, yet is far more restrained and less showy than Nichols' previous outings. Whereas most love stories are typically based around big gestures, or the most retrained ones are at least building up to explosive bouts of emotion, Loving typically underplays those elements in preference for internal expression. In fact, one may take a surface glance at the central characters, played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, and assume the portrayals and the film to be quite one-note.

But to dismiss Loving for those reasons would be missing the point, and it's a very realistic stance for Nichols to take. He understands that love isn't defined by gestures or symbols, but typically takes more modest and intimate forms of affection. Nichols, as well as Edgerton and Negga, understand well that love is a universal language not merely of words, which are otherwise meaningless compared to body language and expressiveness. Edgerton probably has the harder of the two performances, but absolutely excels in the creation of his character, not necessarily a man who's shy to state the things on his mind, but being a man of the time he's in, chooses to instead remain the calm and stoic central figure, even though the feelings he keeps bottled up are ready to burst. Having the showier role - but no less easier - is Ruth Negga, the more emotional side of the marriage unafraid to share the heartache and fear of the situation she's in, but still just as natural and reserved in filtering those feelings, and mainly conveying her thoughts and responses through the gut-wrenching expression of her eyes. The nature of their romance never feels false or misplayed for a moment, always built on an intangible, but no less passionate connection with each other, whether that be expressed in their one-on-one conversations, or their interactions with those sympathetic to their cause, such as Nick Kroll as an opportunistic but sincerely compassionate lawyer, and the aforementioned Michael Shannon as a photographer capturing their love in the moment like a carefully crafted painting.

But above all, Loving understands that love in itself is not only a universal language, but a universal right. Love can't be lectured on, derived to formula, or be confined by legal or religious standards. In fact, the legal matter of a white man and a black woman marrying each other in the 60's can be just as appropriately applied to a couple of the same gender in recent years. We have no grasp of love, no matter how much we may act or pretend like we do, and we never will, nor can we truly deny those feelings within ourselves, with Nichols often subtly tearing down that precedence and begging the question of what makes one relationship more legitimate than the other. We don't have all the answers, but sometimes it's best not to. Sometimes it's best to disregard cold logic, and instead embrace those moments and those relationships that make you happy. It may not be showy or overly sentimental, but Loving still proves a warm and heartfelt watch in spite of that.

****1/2 / *****

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