Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words. A Review


Right or wrong, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon both figuratively and literally. What can one say about someone who has appeared on votive candles even before her death? Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words, culls the archives and supplements itself with a few interviews to paint a portrait much like the subject: deliberate, methodical, respectful.

We hear from Justice Ginsburg as through various question-and-answer sessions from children, she remembers the hurdles she faced. There were three: she was Jewish, she was a woman and she was a mother. The course of her life, however, ran through several gender discrimination cases (she opted to use "gender" rather than "sex" to avoid any connotations the latter would elicit).

The various Supreme Court hearings she participated in both as an advocate and a Justice are present via animation. 

As she and others, such as former clerks and litigants in Supreme Court cases reflect on both the Justice and her impact on their lives, we do see some of Justice Ginsburg's private life. There's her family and the pride she takes in them, as well as her long-vaulted friendship with her diametrical opposite, Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Ruth was made before Justice Ginsburg's death on September 18, 2020. As such, hearing Notorious RBG co-author Irin Carmon describing Ginsburg's health as "good" seems rather odd now. That's unfair to writer/director Freida Lee Mock. She couldn't have known Justice Ginsburg would not only be dead by the time Ruth was released to general audiences but be the subject of a fierce battle over her replacement.

Even with this hindsight though, Ginsburg's hope for a return to civility and comradeship in government seem to work in its favor.

Ruth reveals much about the late Justice and rarely slips into worshipful hagiography. Hearing how both Ginsburg the person and Ginsburg the Justice had impact on individuals is a highlight of the film. Then-Jennifer Carroll, for example, became one of the first women at the Virginia Military Institute thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling United States v Virginia. The now-Virginia House Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy could enter politics due not just to her VMI education but through Ginsburg's example.

While Ruth did not spend much time in the famous Ginsburg/Scalia friendship, I admit to being moved by her eulogy at her dear friend's funeral. She quotes from the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, inspired by their surprising friendship and mutual love of opera. To misquote one of the opera's songs, they were different, they were one.  

At times it can be a bit much, particularly when one interviewee is almost misty-eyed remembering the meals the Ginsburgs prepared. It also does not delve into exactly how this tiny senior became "the Notorious RBG", a cult figure held as this quasi-divine figure. Given her cult status, a little worship perhaps should be expected.

That, however, is perhaps being nitpicky. Respectful if perhaps a touch reverential, Ruth is a fine film on a truly monumental figure. 


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