Can a boundary be put upon love? Can someone decide who can love another? Is it the state’s right to decide who has the right to marriage?
These are the questions that “Loving” places before the viewer.
It begins in the late 1950s in a rural county in Virginia. A couple is sitting together on the porch.
The woman looks at the man and says, “I’m pregnant.” The man looks at the woman and smiles. He affirms his love for her and his desire to be her husband and she be his wife.
But there is a problem: she is black and he is white. And this is Virginia where there is what was known as an anti-miscegenation law, which declared that there can be no marriage between interracial couples.
So Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) drive to Washington, D.C., to get married.
Upon their return, they move into Mildred’s parents’ home. One early morning, the county law enforcement comes and takes them off to jail.
Richard is bailed out, but Mildred is left in jail. When Richard is released, the sheriff (Marton Csokas) tells him not to come back around there and that he should have known better. He is told that it was God’s law that he is breaking.
Eventually, Mildred is released, a trial is held, and their attorney (Bill Camp) gets a plea deal worked out.
The judge (David Jensen), who believes in the separation of the races, will give them probation if they plead guilty and promise not to return to the county for 25 years. The couple agree and move to Washington, D.C.
The time comes for Mildred to deliver her baby, and Richard’s mother is a midwife. They sneak back into the county to have the baby, but they get arrested again and face prison.
The attorney tells the judge that he told the couple they could return for the birth of their child. This saves them from the full sentence being passed upon them.
They return to D.C. to continue a life away from family and their support system. Richard works as a brick mason while Mildred tends to their children.
But she has a yearning for home and she does not like the city. It is a threat to her and the raising of her children.
By this time, John F. Kennedy is president and the civil rights movement is in full bloom.
Mildred writes to Robert Kennedy, who is attorney general. She explains what happened to her and Richard, which leads to the ACLU coming alongside and taking their case.
The attorney (Nick Kroll) begins the journey that will take them to the Supreme Court. A key moment in that process comes when Richard is asked what he wanted to tell the judge. Richard states, “Tell him I love my wife.”
“Loving” takes a page out of history and puts us into that time. It asks us to hear the rationale of those that felt that interracial marriage was wrong.
The rationale is stated to be based on an understanding of the mind of God. It is declared that God put people of different races on different continents. If God wanted for there to be intermarriage, then God would have put people of all races together in the same place.
This idea can be a dangerous “third rail” when it comes to declaring the will of God. In Isaiah 55:8, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
The way that “Loving” does this is not in an overpowering way, but in a way that is clear that these two love each other and they want to be husband and wife.
It makes us think about what does God want when it comes to marriage? What is the role of the state when it comes to marriage?
I was stirred by this movie. The acting is first rate with Edgerton and Negga giving great performances. It is one of the best movies of the year and worth being sought out.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements
Director and writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga (Mildred); Joel Edgerton (Richard); Marton Csokas (Sherriff Brooks); Bill Camp (Frank Beazley); David Jensen (Judge Bazile); and Nick Kroll (Bernie Cohen).
The movie’s website is here.