Cold Mountain: Loving through a war
The American Civil War has been the backdrop of at least one film other than Anthony Minghella's (Remember his Oscar winning "The English Patient") "Cold Mountain" (2003) -- David O. Selznick's "Gone with the Wind" (released in 1939).
Like Selznick -- who adapted "Gone with the Wind" from Margaret Mitchell's novel of about 1300 pages (the only one she wrote) with the same name -- Minghella wrote his screenplay for "Cold Mountain" from Charles Frazier's literary work, also with the same name, about love and the struggle to live for it.
As handsome Jude Law (who has a striking resemblance to India's Aamir Khan during the latter half of the picture) treks across the great American plains torn apart by the 1861 Civil War, warding off especially those out to punish him for deserting his southern army.
A brief note on the American Civil War:
The American Civil War began in 1861, just after Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery, was elected the nation's President.
The north and the south of America were then divided across political, economic and social lines. The south was essentially agricultural. Cotton was its main crop, and these plantations needed hundreds of labourers, who were imported from Africa and forced into a life of slavery. The north was increasingly industrial.
The north had abolished slavery in the early 19th century, but the south refused to do so, because black slaves were a key element in the south's socio-economic wellbeing and structure.
So, when Lincoln became President, 11 southern States seceded from the Union of America and called themselves the Confederate. The north would not let this happen and went to war with the south.
Three million Americans fought in this war, and two per cent of the country's total population died in what was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the U.S. history.
The blood and sacrifice won America its unity, undoubtedly a hard won unity. Lincoln was assassinated days after the war ended as he was watching a play in a theatre.
I could sense the intensity of an unfolding drama, which also has two other important characters, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger (who won an Oscar for the Best Supporting Role on February 29 2004).
Kidman, who was not even nominated for an Oscar in 2004, is, all said and done, marvellous as Ada, whose road is by no means easier than Inman's (Law), having once been well bred and sheltered. It is into Ada's unsettled-by-the-strife life that Ruby (Zellweger) enters, and the three characters form what is a remarkable story of tragic love and desire.
Ruby injects a wonderful dose of humour, though often laced with a sense of ironical sorrow, into Ada's dreary life as she pines away for Inman, a soldier she had but met briefly long ago and just about managed to steal a few kisses. This is indeed a weak point in the narrative: we really fail to understand the
profundity of Ada's feelings for Inman.
However, "Cold Mountain" strikes one as a film that is in many ways refreshingly far removed from "Gone with the Wind". Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O Hara is a fiery southerner out to hook suave Clark Gable's Rhett Butler, while Ada is a genteel aristocrat whose few moments of love for Inman -- shorn of Gable's dash and debonair -- drives him into years of longing for her, an yearning that forces him to leave his garrison and walk across miles and miles of undulating savagery.
Minghella's work is certainly worth the 155 minutes of its running time, though the first few reels tended to make me sleepy. The narrative here is quite slow, with nothing much happening, though the movie picks up later as it begins to weave sometimes horrific, sometimes witty incidents into the main plot.
Inman's encounter with a lonely young woman nursing a sick infant is a fine example of this. So too, the sequences involving Ruby's father. These go on to make a fine screenplay, often riveting. Minghella, of course, does not shy away from giving us a share of the revulsion, and the American Civil War was, afterall, a bloody affair: "Cold Mountain" manages to give us the creeps even as it does pepper these shots with magnificent poignancy.
(This review was written exclusively for this website on March 22 2004)