Rob Edelman: The Bad... And the Good

Feb 25, 2013

During the first months of each new year, movie theaters are overcrowded with generally dreadful films: throwaways with such less-than-appealing titles as A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and BULLET IN THE HEAD or moronic comedies like IDENTITY THIEF that somehow clean up at the box office or well-intentioned films like SIDE EFFECTS, a murder mystery which also explores the issue of prescription drug abuse but is way too fanciful and crammed with plot holes. 

However, on occasion, a new film that actually is quite good does earn a theatrical release. One such title is GINGER & ROSA. Granted, GINGER & ROSA is not the kind of film that will be remembered next fall, when this year’s Oscar buzz begins heating up, but it is a thoughtful, quietly powerful drama, a rumination of what our world was like in 1962. It also offers the point of view that what you say, your views on politics or morality or whatever, are of little consequence when contrasted to what you actually do and how you act as you go through life.

GINGER & ROSA unfolds around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when an awareness of the power and danger of nuclear arms and the threat of nuclear war was ever-apparent. The central character is Ginger, a bright, sensitive teenager who is becoming increasingly depressed by the world situation. Ginger is convinced that the end of the world is imminent, and so she becomes actively involved in the era’s Ban the Bomb protests.

Meanwhile, her best friend Rosa, whom she has known her entire life, has entirely different priorities. Rosa is intent on saving just one person: Roland, a married, free-spirited pacifist to whom she is attracted. Roland passionately believes in what he describes as the “freedom of action.” He is a conscientious objector, and his politics landed him in jail during World War II. Roland, who is quite a bit older than Rosa, has an oil-and-water relationship with his wife. But there is a catch here. Roland just so happens to be Ginger’s father.

GINGER & ROSA is written and directed by Sally Potter, the esteemed British filmmaker. It benefits from an eye-opening performance by young Elle Fanning, who plays Ginger, and some superior use of period music from Dave Brubeck to Little Richard to “Telstar.” But the film works best as a treatise on the importance of taking responsibility for one’s behavior. In GINGER & ROSA, Potter bitingly criticizes those who take a do-as-you-feel approach to living without acknowledging the repercussions, the end-result of their behavior.

And some of these individuals just may be like Roland: “liberals,” who have the best intentions but in the end merely are talkers, rather than doers. 

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of  Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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