Movie Review

 

Cold Mountain movie poster

Cold Mountain

Production Company: Miramax Films
Director: Anthony Minghella
Principals: Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renee Zellweger
Rating: R (violence, brief nudity, emotional intensity)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMC.org) – While most war movies spend their time at “ground zero,” Cold Mountain explores the impact of the warring mindset as it spreads like a disease across the land. How are communities, families and individuals impacted by the onset of war, and how, if ever can they recover? Those are the questions posed by this thought-provoking, and heart wrenching new film.

Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain takes you on a harrowing and gritty odyssey of survival, waged by confederate deserter Inman (Jude Law), as he tries to return to his sweetheart Ada (Nicole Kidman) back in Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Photo © Copyright Miramax
Based on Charles Frazier’s award winning novel, Cold Mountain is perhaps the best Civil War film ever produced, delivering a strong social statement as well. I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly rooting for Cold Mountain. I was not a huge fan of Frazier’s oddly detached novel, nor director Anthony Minghella’s previous Oscar® winner, The English Patient. But after the gripping “Battle of the Crater,” I was hooked. For the next two and a half hours, Cold Mountain takes you on a harrowing and gritty odyssey of survival, waged by confederate deserter Inman (Jude Law), as he tries to return to his sweetheart Ada (Nicole Kidman) back in Cold Mountain, North Carolina.

That Inman has to struggle to survive comes as no surprise. It’s winter, he’s wounded and deserters are hunted as traitors. But the beauty of the story is how it shows us the flip-side of war—the struggles of those left behind. So as Inman makes a literal journey back to Cold Mountain, Ada wages an emotional journey and struggles for her own survival. A preacher’s daughter, originally from upper-crust Charleston, Ada is a fish-out-of-water in rustic Cold Mountain, where her ailing father has gone for the healing mountain air. She was raised as a refined southern belle, suited to parlor society, not farm life. When her father dies, shortly after the onset of war, she is left with no useful skills and no able-bodied men to work the farm.

Cold Mountain
Ada's efforts seem doomed, until a no-nonsense girl named Ruby (Renee Zellweger) comes down from the mountains to work the farm and educate her. Photo © Copyright Miramax
Frazier based his novel on Homer’s Odyssey and like Odysseus, Inman is war-weary and can no longer support a cause that has brought nothing but grief. For him, the war is lost and only the promise of returning to Ada and Cold Mountain give him hope. As he journeys home, he encounters many characters derived from Homer, including deadly sirens and a witch-like old woman. Along the way, he serves as a symbol of integrity and humanity as he runs the gauntlet of the treacherous, the colorful and the corrupt who populate the countryside. Even his name—Inman—symbolizes the every-man, who is simple, decent and doing his best against brutal odds.

Ada, like Penelope in the Odyssey, must remain faithful against a series of suitors and defend her farm from dangerous interlopers. Her efforts seem doomed, until a no-nonsense girl named Ruby (Renee Zellweger) comes down from the mountains to work the farm and educate hapless Ada. When Ruby arrives, she finds Ada cowering before an aggressive rooster. Ruby’s character is summed up instantly, as she snaps the bird’s neck and declares, “Let’s put him in a pot!”

Cold Mountain
For Inman, home itself is an illusion. The town he’s determined to return to is already gone, forever changed by war. Photo © Copyright Miramax
The film expertly illustrates the effect that war has even on noncombatants. Some are ennobled by it, risking their lives to protect Inman or Ada or to sustain their own moral integrity. Others give in to the opportunistic evil that war creates, from those who will over-charge for food or needed services, to those who exercise cruel authority over anyone smaller and weaker than themselves. One example is the Home Guard, a group of apparently able men who did not enlist, but have stayed behind to enforce marshal law over Cold Mountain, root out deserters and punish those who harbor them. Their outward patriotism is actually an excuse to indulge in petty cruelty and to serve personal agendas.

One lesson from the film is that people need hope to survive, whether it’s the hope Ada and Inman share in being reunited, or Ruby’s hope for a stable home life. But this lesson is laced with irony. Ada and Inman’s love is more symbolic than real. They even admit that they barely know each other. For Inman, home itself is an illusion. The town he’s determined to return to is already gone, forever changed by war. Cold Mountain’s most lasting messages are two-fold: that the first victim of any war is mercy, and that hope, even the illusion of hope, can be the key to survival.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.



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