Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Suffragette (2015)

Film: Suffragette (2015)
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep
Director: Sarah Gavron
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I remember the first time I grabbed a sign and stood up in a protest.  It was a thrilling experience, toward the beginning of my college career, and it was over the Iraq War.  I stood on a busy sidewalk, standing there with a few fellow classmates, insisting that people who supported us honk, which a lot of them did (I also heard a lot of "if you don't like America you can leave" and a few less printable words hurled in there too-if you've protested before you know that both sides come out in those instances).  It's something, I think, few people in their lives sort of feel-protesting is something that is frequently done by the young, and even then it's become less common when you can simply cast out a Facebook status and consider your civic duty served.  I kept thinking this with a bit of anger and wonder while watching Suffragette, a film that shows the power and incredible danger that has gone into protesting, and in securing freedoms for women around the world.  The film, particularly taken in light of the recent push for equal pay and better healthcare for women (and on the precipice of the first American woman to be a major party's nominee for president), is a hugely important reminder of the sacrifices that people gave for freedom and equality before, and a reminder that doing nothing is perhaps the greatest slap in the face of all to those brave souls who said a stern-lipped "not anymore."

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows figures both real and fake in the fight for women in Britain in the early 1910's.  Our central figure is Maud (Mulligan), a woman who lives her days working in a laundry in extraordinarily harsh conditions, living only for her husband and son Georgie.  We learn as the film goes on that her life has not been easy, with her parents dying very young and her boss repeatedly raping her when she was a girl.  She notices a coworker Violet (Duff) is involved with breaking windows in hopes of continuing Emmeline Pankhurst's (Streep) movement to get women the vote.  As the film progresses, Maud finds herself wrapped into the idea of equality and the suffragette movement, joining Violet and their leader Edith (Bonham Carter) in increasingly violent acts in order to gain the attention of the press, Prime Minister, and King George.  This comes at great personal sacrifice, with her husband throwing her onto the streets and giving up her son Georgie (whom she has no legal right to) up for adoption.  The film ends with the famous death of Emily Davison (Press), when she threw herself in front of King George V's horse in order to show her "Votes for Women" banner.  The film ends rather well over the credits, showing us how many (and when) the countries did eventually grant the votes to women.

The movie is deeply moving based solely on the subject matter.  There was a moment late in the film when Mulligan has gone through a rather impressive soliloquy that the audience erupted in spontaneous applause, one of the few times outside of Milk I have actually heard that happen.  The film is gut-wrenching when you think about the personal and professional sacrifices women had to make just to create equality, and you leave in tears.  I found myself crying, in fact, in the most random of places more out of shock compared to the disregard people hold for their personal freedoms and civic responsibilities today compared to what, 100 years ago, women had to bleed, endure prison, lose their families, and even die to ensure that they were treated equally.  It made me want to get on a soap box outside the theater admonishing any person who didn't vote in last week's election because they "weren't informed" or "were too busy."

Those sorts of reactions, though, weren't necessarily at the movie but just at the realism on-display, as the film itself is just fair.  The film's camerawork is jittery in the worst ways, particularly in the action sequences where I had to close my eyes the camera was moving so ferociously so as not to get motion sickness.  Even the talking sequences were such short cuts and close-ups that I couldn't help but wish Gavron had hired a better cinematographer and editor.  The performances were pretty good, though again fairly uneven in my opinion.  Carey Mulligan is a marvelous actor, with a collectedness and soothing voice that cannot be denied, but we rarely get to know what is in her heart as the film progresses, and as we start hitting more and more radical methods of gaining the King's attention, we stop seeing her grow properly as a character.  The rest of the cast is given ample opportunity to shine, but none of them take to the characters with anything other than saintly fervor.  Meryl Streep, in a deeply climactic scene (she's only onscreen for roughly three minutes) is brilliant in a fiery moment of terrific stunt casting (you need someone instantly recognizable to live up to the hype the film has given Pankhurst, and it's a very thrilling moment in the movie), but it is indeed merely a cameo.  Worst of all is Brendan Gleeson's villain, who is probably true-to-life in some aspects (chauvinism got and gets this bad, I would assume) but we see almost no humanity in his Inspector Steed.

As a result, I think the film is probably a 3-star endeavor because when you're getting the emotions I felt out, there's clearly something working there and Mulligan is solid, but I can't help feeling like a more introspective story would have added layers to this film (or at least a less erratic cameraman would have made the first hour more pleasant).  It surely would have helped its awards chances.  At least those are my thoughts-what about yours?  Have you seen Suffragette, and did it embolden you politically like it did me?  What role would you like to see the extremely versatile Mulligan taken on next?  And why do people think it's socially acceptable to skip out on voting?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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