For people like me, people from England this is, you could go your whole life without knowing anything about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her influence has only been within the confines of the US and the changes she brought about through the span of her career haven’t influenced my life or those around me. Despite what could be considered a limited scope, RBG is more than a film about Ginsburg’s life, it’s a tale about mothers and daughters and a country still finding itself, still learning and growing thanks to men and women willing to stand up and speak truth to power.
RBG chronicles Ginsburg’s life from her early days, right up to her years of The Supreme Court and the landmark decisions and choices that brought us to this point. Along the way it paints a picture of a woman deeply devoted to family, to the law and her country and how she changed a sexist landscape through the law.
As of late Ginsburg has become an icon for women of all ages, some for her dissenting opinions and others for her legacy before joining the highest court. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West didn’t so much create this film to pay homage to her, her deeds do that on their own but they have crafted a narrative within her life that brings meaning to how far America has come and still has left to go.
A little too complimentary at times, RBG isn’t a perfect film, nor is she a perfect human being but Cohen and West spend too much time crafting a conventional documentary format that when it comes around to pointing out her flaws they leave too little time. The idea that you can craft a perfect documentary about somebody’s life in 90 minutes however is absurd. Despite the fact this is a straight-laced affair with no frills or thrills it is always compelling.
A documentary without an agenda, this isn’t aggressive film-making, there is no agenda here to speak of. Sure some of the talking heads lean one way or another but that is not the point, this is about facts, not some fiction crafted with enough time and clever editing. Much like the woman herself this is quiet but sharply designed, honesty is what is important.
In the same vein the film tells the tale of a woman who is devoted to her work, to truth within the law and the system she stood steadfast by. Although others tell you the importance of her early work for women’s rights were what was important to her, RBG paints a picture of a person struck by how important her work is, not the importance the work could have. In reality, she strikes a chord because she can see not only what the country was but what it could be while never losing sight of reality.
Saying more with a sentence than with a paragraph, a woman of few words, Ginsburg might seem enigmatic but hidden beneath all that is a woman of tremendous heart. Through all the facts thrown at you there is a hidden agenda here, not about politics or the law, but about family. Despite only briefly speaking of her upbringing, this is really a film about a person living up to the ideals of her parents who wanted more for her than they had.
This message about mothers and daughters acts as a beautiful analogy for America as a whole and the trajectory it has taken over the years since. Following Ginsburg through civil rights, women’s rights, the red scare and everything that came after it, America has always been in some kind of flux. Despite that, it has always found its way due to like-minded individuals bringing about the change we want to see. An apt lesson for today’s generation, Cohen and West use Ginsburg as a starting point to inspire the next generation of people to stand up.
Her effect on society cannot be underestimated, you can see it on anybody in the film listening to her speeches, her role as a teacher to a country and anyone lucky enough to watch the film is immeasurable but for me what makes her unique and worth giving an hour and a half of your time to is her commitment to a promise she made and the family that came from it.