Movie Review: 'Loving'
Tell the judge—tell the judge I love my wife.
It’s not often that the climax of a movie lies in a single line of dialogue, and especially when that line comes directly before one of the most consequential Supreme Court cases in U.S. history.
But that’s part of the beauty of Loving, which tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose arrest in Virginia in 1958 for violating anti-miscegenation laws eventually led to overturning bans on interracial marriage throughout the country.
When I say it tells their story, I mean it tells their story. Director Jeff Nichols is a master of tone, and he resists what must have been a strong impulse to make this into a grand and sweeping movie of the triumph of justice over bigotry. Instead, he roots Loving in the quiet resolve of his characters, perfectly reflecting their desire simply to live their lives in peace. It was never initially their intention to change history, and this is also what makes those words from Richard—tell the judge I love my wife—it’s what makes those words so powerful. Throughout their ordeal, Richard is far more reluctant than his wife to obtain any kind of public profile. While Mildred eventually does recognize how important some level of exposure can be for both their legal case and the larger fight against a racist law, Richard has trouble understanding at any point why he and his wife can’t just love each other. And this is both what he wants the court justices to know, and the real core of the movie, and the Lovings' case itself. What’s the problem with two people just loving each other?
Nichols has made a gentle but astonishing film, one that doesn’t give the short-term satisfaction of a blood-pumping rousing victory or speech against injustice, but instead shows us the court’s decision through the nearly wordless face of Mildred, receiving the news by telephone. Which is all that much more meaningful, because it’s true to the people involved and to their long, quiet fight that changed the country.