There is an unquestionable overabundance of woke agitprop coming from Hollywood these days, but between this and the 2018 “documentary” by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the cinematic love letter to Notorious RBG has become its own subgenre. I went in expecting epic cringe and it didn’t disappoint. It is the veritable hymnal for the feminist catechism that I expected.
However, the film seems to be running at cross purposes with contemporary sensibilities. On one hand, it is refueling the feminist grievance industry by attempting to portray the world of 2020 as completely unchanged from the world of Harvard Law School in 1956 when RBG was one of six women in her class. As Sam Waterston’s Erwin Griswold confers with his team in preparation for the Charles Moritz case, Mimi Leder absolutely wants you find this cabal of white men who bloviate over the sanctity of the family loathsome and omnipresent. Down with the patriarchy! When Marty toasts Ruth’s new professorship after being turned down at law firms, you’re supposed to feel the revulsion and disappointment on Ruth’s visage as he refers to her as “mom”. Fuck motherhood man! Garbage collection gender equality NOW!
Yet, at the same time, there is something decidedly unwoke about this film. While the film centers around RBG’s quest for redress of Charles Moritz’ denial of a caregiver tax deduction, the film already feels out of step with the cutting edge of the feminist ideological vanguard. In her arguments to the 10th circuit judges, RBG says that sex is an immutable biological reality. Whoa! Ease up there, Hitler. DIDN’T YOU READ JUDITH BUTLER, RUTH?
But none of that matters. If anything, it’s proof that the progressive ruling class doesn’t take anything it says seriously. They’re all just different shards of ideological weaponry that can be deployed when necessary. As is usually the case with the best works of propaganda, it’s very clever about how the message is delivered. As a newly radicalized Jane Ginsburg tries to femsplain to her unwoke mom that Atticus Finch was a role model attorney, Ruth shoots her down by appealing to THE PENAL CODE as evidence of his unethical behavior. Ah, but why is Ruth Bader Ginsburg putting everything on the line for Charles Moritz? BECAUSE THE LAW IS WRONG. So the lesson is that the law is the ultimate authority until it’s politically inconvenient. Because every woman must have an equal opportunity to work street sanitation or fulfill her lifelong dream of working an oil derrick.
As Ruth and Marty arrive at the 10th circuit courtroom for the climactic trial, Mimi Leder hovers over the quote inscribed on the wall. It reads “Reason is the soul of the law”. Sounds great, right? Standard Enlightenment rhetoric. It’s the stuff of which the American Revolution was built. It’s supposed to be the kind of lofty ideal on which which every American can agree. But who really thinks America in 2020 can agree on what “reason” means? Or who possesses the capacity to exercise it properly? Let alone believes in the existence of a “soul” within the law.
RBG is the ultimate progressive power fantasy because she embodies the You Can Have It All feminist dream. She has a devoted husband and she’s a game changing crusader for Womyn’s Rights. She’s a mother and an educated career oriented woman. But Mimi Leder isn’t interested in whether or not this is attainable or desirable for everyone. Like everyone else in the progressive ruling class, the fantasy of ideological purity is the overriding priority. This is just as much a slice of a decades long social engineering experiment carried out by the progressive establishment as it is the story of a pivotal case in RBG’s career. Academia and the ACLU are just as important to this story as RBG herself. When Kathy Bates’ Dorothy Kenyon admonishes Ruth to “change minds, then change the law”, this feels like a page from the ruling class playbook. As a footnote, there is also what appears to be a nod to the Pentagon’s role in the development of artificial intelligence in the judicial system; a job that would later be outsourced to Silicon Valley.
Just like the Cohen and West “documentary” from 2018, Mimi Leder also isn’t interested in looking back and taking stock of what the legacy of the feminist establishment has wrought. It’s painting RBG’s career as an unquestionably righteous neverending battle while simultaneously subtly denigrating marriage and motherhood. If equality is your highest ideal, then that necessarily entails that the hierarchy of values that once defined the social order will be equalized as well. When sex becomes recreational, then you shouldn’t be surprised or appalled by an entire generation of infantilized men or the dissolution of chivalry. And yet, that’s exactly the grift Leder and the progressive ruling class is attempting to pull off in this film. Just be sure to tweet SLAY KWEEN as you watch RBG do her slo-mo march up the SCOTUS staircase.