Loving (2016)


Loving is a most important and superbly done movie about the marriage in the late 1950s of Virginians Richard and Mildred Loving, both country folk, Richard a white bricklayer and Mildred a black housewife, a union which defied Virginia state law outlawing interracial marriage and which, after Mildred, at the suggestion of a friend, wrote a letter for help to Robert Kennedy who enjoined the ACLU, eventually led to the 1967 Supreme Court ruling which invalidated such laws anywhere in America.

I can imagine various ways in which the movie might have been shrill and replete with “messaging,” a classic Hollywood scold about the bestial subculture which speaks of “miscegenation” together with a rendering of the principals for change as invincibly heroic. The scold is deserved and the heroism true, but the storytelling itself is another matter: it compels artistic wisdom, a suitable art, and the movie has it: The secret to the great power of Loving is Director/Writer Jeff Nichols’s decision to understate the story and to show the characters as entirely human. In fact, “simple” is a good word to keep in mind as you ponder why this movie moves you strongly. Nichols doesn’t let much get in your way as he stays focused on the sad but finally uplifting story.

Here “simple” refers both to the characters and to the dignified quietness of the action in the story. All are frail humans, even the sheriff, judge and lawyer who are the local representatives of the racist Powers of Darkness; but they are far from their fellow Satanic characters in Mississippi Burning.  The ACLU lawyers are far from supremely confident let alone certain of prevailing. Richard and Mildred and their family and friends are goodhearted people, folk with a sense of morality, and considerable wisdom which is slowly but surely (dependably might be a better word) revealed. Only the Supreme Court justices are not shown in focus–they are blurred but imposing figures behind the high desk in the hearing room–one of the few heavy-handed (though perfectly consistent) symbolic touches by the gifted Nichols: In sum, The Separated Power Larger Than All saves, as it should and as designed and as we hope it will.

Finally, the wonderful Michael Shannon appears briefly as LIFE Magazine’s ace photographer, Grey Villet, who visits Richard and Mildred in their remote farmhouse and photographs them unposed and simply as themselves, hardworking husband and wife who deeply love one another and take care of their kids. Shannon certainly is one of the great actors of today and I am imagining he took this part out of a commitment to the importance of the story. He might as well be a metaphorical stand-in for Nichols since Shannon, in but a few quick scenes, and himself playing a filmmaker, perfectly conveys the wisdom of showcasing the simple and profound truth of Loving.

Don’t miss this one.