Cold Mountain makes us all shiver with delight

By
February 12, 2004

Mills College Weekly

I don’t think I have ever been so sad without crying. A movie
may have never made me more depressed. Granted, I do try to avoid
those films that remind me of the excruciatingly bitter realities
of drugs, poverty, and war. Granted, I prefer mainstream films
(though I watch indies and experimentals). Granted, I had two
glasses of wine before seeing it. So you can take my words with as
many grains of salt as you please:

Cold Mountain is a combination of most emotions on the
human spectrum. (And yes, a Hollywood movie can do that.)

Adapted from a history buff’s dream book of the same name by
Charlie Frazier, this film sets its characters in the American
Civil War. Nicole Kidman plays the innocent city girl, Ada, who
moves with her reverend father (Donald Sutherland) to the town of
Cold Mountain in the outback of North Carolina. Renee Zellwegger
plays Ruby, the tough redneck woman who saves Ada by teaching her
how to survive off the land. Lesson One, for example, is how to
twist a rooster’s head clean off with your bare hands. A series of
other recognizable and well-known actors make appearances as
various unique and intriguing characters. Jena Malone (Bastard
Out of Carolina
, Stepmom) plays a redneck ferry boat
girl. Natalie Portman-did you know she could actually act?-plays
Sara, a widowed mother fighting for the life of her child. Philip
Seymour Hoffman (Red Dragon, Along Came Polly) is a reverend
with a bit of a nymphomania problem.

But the cream of the crop and the very sustenance of the movie
is Inman (a very fine-looking and endearing Jude Law). His story,
of course, you have heard before: a sweet young man pulled
reluctantly into war where he makes himself a hero and then escapes
to find his sweetheart (Kidman), but he is changed by the death he
has wrought upon his brothers. Okay, so the plot is not
award-winning. But in seeing this film, it is important to separate
plot from content.

The weak at heart need not bother to attend. Death and
destruction dominate this film. Neighbors torturing each other, not
just killing. Yankees using massive amounts of explosives to blow
the clothes right off of the Confederates. Yes, there are heroes.
Yes, they play the tactic of young blond boy getting a bayonet in
the stomach so that you can find stereotypical sympathy. But the
depth of this film’s emotion comes when, in the sheer multitude of
devastation that you see, you become physically desperate for some
shred of goodness somewhere, some ray of hope that the human race
is not entirely disgusting and self-destructive. And unlike a
million and one Hollywood films, Cold Mountain does not give
you those rays of hope, not as many as you would wish for. For that
reason, I found this movie absolutely depressing. And for that
reason, I think it is a valuable film.

Of course, it is mainstream. Of course, you have conventional
camera angles and plot structure. But this movie forces you to
interact with it, to feel the desperation of Inman just trying to
get home, the fear of getting caught on the way, the love that he
has and that sustains him, the anguish of those war-torn
individuals he meets along his journey. At the risk of sounding
melodramatic, this film is really about humanity. And on the other
end is not a happy ending, as you would expect, and as so rarely
happens. But, instead, there is change and acceptance.

And for those of you who fancy a good romance, this is the most
romantic movie I have seen in a very long time. Inman lives well
after the credits roll. And for those of you who love
cinematography, the work of cinematographer John Seale does an
incredible job in reminding you that there are still stunning
landscapes out there in America that can take your breath away.

In short, those of you who accept Hollywood films as valid
outlets of art and emotion, I highly recommend Cold
Mountain
. And so do the Academy Awards! And for those of you
who don’t, may I recommend The Station Agent?


Cold Mountain makes us all shiver with delight was published on February 12, 2004 in Arts & Entertainment

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