September 04, 2008

Mythic qualities of Frozen River

Living Degree Zero

Frozen River, written and directed by Courtney Hunt[I]t’s refreshing to see such an unpretentious, uncynical (i.e., free of Hollywood bullshit) portrayal of the realities of lower middle class and poor rural life in America. An upstate boy myself (though not so far as the snows of Massena!), I was incredibly pleased that Hunt nails both the precise visual look and the exact emotional register—stark and bleak but filled with a sharp, stripped-down beauty—of what upstaters like myself call the “North Country,” a world completely unlike that of urban and suburban New York: a world of hardships and physical labor, of bankruptcy and forfeiture, of poverty and addiction and casual crime; but a world still filled with magic and wonder, with dark forests and deep snows and vast open spaces, alive with the thrills of danger, adventure, and transgression.

These archetypal, mythic qualities are embodied by the frozen river of the title, the St. Lawrence, which is as much a character in the film as the “strong brown god” of the Mississippi is in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, another classic American tale of transgression and escape. The river is an unstable, dangerous bridge over which Ray must repeatedly travel in her quest for financial security, and whose thin ice could crack at any time—a perfect, simple metaphor for the precariousness of the middle class, and, indeed, the American Dream, in the final burned-out days of the Bush administration and the failed Republican Revolution.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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