Political Film Society - Newsletter #188 - December 27, 2003

December 27, 2003


Cold MountainAt the center of Cold Mountain, directed by Anthony Minghella, is a love story that spans the years from 1861 to 1864, largely taking place in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, a community in the Appalachians (though none of the filming is actually in that state). The film has several flashbacks and flashforwards to lay the premise for a romance which, due to the Civil War, is never quite consummated. Chronologically, the story begins when Ada Monroe (played by Nicole Kidman) rides into the community with her father, the Reverend Monroe (played by Donald Sutherland), who has left Charleston for the fresher air of the mountains. His church is being constructed when they arrive. Inman (played by Jude Law), one of the construction workers, is immediately attracted to the glamorously dressed Ada, who returns the compliment by offering him a glass of cider. An improbable love affair then blooms. However, one Sunday word reaches the community that North Carolina has seceded, and the Civil War has begun. Inman goes off to war after a single passionate kiss with Ada, while she remains with her father. Reverend Monroe, however, dies soon thereafter, leaving her alone until Ruby (played by Renee Zellweger) comes along, having run out on her abusive husband, to help out with the livestock and vegetables while Ada awaits Inman's return from the war. Several anti-war themes pervade Cold Mountain, albeit very subtly, and the film glosses over the racism that the South was so impetuously trying to defend. The first exposé comes early, during the 1864 siege of Petersburg, when many soldiers on both sides perish in an ill-planned assault on a trench built by the Southern army. In a subsequent battle, Inman is wounded, again underscoring the brutality of war. Sentimentally, Inman holds dear a book that was Ada's going-away present into which he presses her photograph and three letters that she sent, promising to await his return. Ada, in turn, treasures a photo of Inman as well as a few letters, which ominously stop coming after autumn 1863. While wounded, a hospital volunteer reads her latest letter to him one day, and he soon decides to join the ranks of the deserters. Much of the remaining story is about his Homeric trek from the battlefield through the Blue Ridge Mountains to Cold Mountain, where conditions become nasty while he is on his way.

A renegade band of Southerners hunts deserters, enjoying the opportunity to shoot them in cold blood as well as those who harbor them. A detachment of Northerners is out to seize livestock and, if possible, the opportunity to rape a Southern woman. While men die in combat, women suffer at home. After the war, according to Ada's voiceover, all seek to return to normalcy. However, normal times do not come back to the South after the Civil War, a story told eloquently in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1941). Based on the novel by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain may not measure up to the drama of Gone with the Wind (1939), which recounts a somewhat similar tragedy in a different part of the South, but the composed focus on the indignity of war places Cold Mountain on a higher plane. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Cold Mountain as best film of 2003 in raising consciousness about the foolishness of violent methods and superiority of peaceful methods for resolving conflicts. MH

Amazon.com Music

Cold Mountain
by Charles Frazier

Cold Mountain is an extraordinary novel about a soldier's perilous journey back to his beloved at the end of the Civil War.

The House of Sand and Fog
, directed by Vadim Perelman, is the story of someone who buys a foreclosed house to turn a profit but unexpectedly meets the former owner, whose house was wrongly taken away from her; the clash between the cultures of the former owner and new owner leads to tragedy. The Last Samurai, directed by Edward Zwick, is yet another film promoting cultural awareness; set in Japan during 1866-1867, the Caucasian hero finds the bushido code worth defending, though he was hired to train the new Japanese imperial army to defeat the samurai defending the last feudal clan. Mona Lisa Smile, directed by Mike Newell, is a film that portrays the arrival of nascent women's liberation concepts at conservative Wellesley College in 1953; the film was inspired by the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were Wellesley graduates, albeit more than fifteen years later.

December 31 is the last day to nominate films for Political Film Society awards for 2003.