It seems that filmmaker Jeff Nichols hasn’t made a bad film yet. With a rhythm shifting from patient Southern Gothic dramas (Shotgun Stories, Mud) to original sci-fi familial adventures (Take Shelter, Midnight Special), his second film from 2016, Loving, is squarely in the first category. It’s also his first film based on a true story, a biopic about Richard and Mildred Loving (wonderfully portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple whose nine-year legal battle with the state of Virginia ultimately led to the Supreme Court.
Loving emphasizes the ordinariness of the central radical act of subversion committed by the Lovings. Washing the dishes. Fixing car engines. Doing the laundry. Fixing dinner. Raising children. Putting an arm around a spouse. These quiet moments are so simple and mundane, it’s hard to believe that the state of Virginia would make such a legal fuss about it all. Yet such is our world of systemic injustice and racial inequality, where a white man and black woman are deemed unfit by God to be together. The Supreme Court decision took place less than 50 years ago, and our American nation is still fraught with racial tensions, both individual and political. Loving draws out these implications and questions–how far have we really come?–without ever becoming a “message” movie or courtroom melodrama. The film eschews all such conventions for a simpler, more subtle route–show a couple who genuinely love each other with such warmth and tenderness, one cannot help but be moved. All the Lovings want is to live their simple life in peace, a decision which will take remarkable resolve to ultimately accomplish.
Edgerton and Negga portray this quiet couple with a deep, genuine affection. It is so refreshing to witness a true love story, one involving patience and grace, commitment and sacrifice. They often show their love rather than speak it aloud. Richard isn’t much of a talker anyway, mostly communicating with a series of shrugs or nods. Mildred speaks up more, but she also is a good listener and observer, watching the world around her with a curiosity and wisdom. She carries herself with a calm strength and resolve, and Negga is a marvel to behold in this role. She communicates more with an emotional quiver rippling across her cheek than anything words could contain. The couple share their love in physical affection, not in steamy sex scenes–this is a rather chaste film–but in tender caresses and cuddles, the expression of love from a couple deeply comfortable with one another. At a key scene, forever captured by a Life magazine photographer (Michael Shannon, in a memorable cameo), Richard lays his head in Mildred’s lap as they watch TV on the couch, laughing at Andy Griffith’s antics.
Loving is mundane almost to a fault, and audiences will have to be patient with its quiet and languid pacing. There are no big speeches or swelling musical scores to get the emotions going; there’s just the simple-yet-complicated life of an interracial couple living in the American South during the Civil Rights era. I keep using that word, patient. It’s exactly what love is supposed to be.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. -1 Corinthians 13:4-7
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4669986/