… to paraphrase only slightly, by a change of gender, one of the classic lines from Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay.” This song, as well as other Dylan works is prominently featured in this movie, including the very appropriate “Girl from the North Country,” with the apt verse “If you are traveling in the north country fair, Where the winds beat heavy on the border line, Remember me to one who lives there, She was once a true love of mine…” Bob Dylan is the most famous former “Ranger” in the world, as those who inhabit the Mesabi Range in northeastern Minnesota are called. Not once, however, even in the credits, does this movie indicate that Dylan was raised in the Mesabi’s heartland, Hibbing.
I recently re-watched “Fargo,” which is primarily set in Brainard, Minnesota. Frances McDormand played the part of the sheriff in “Fargo.” She also plays a key role in “North Country.” As is Amazon’s delightful custom, they saw the links between these two movies and suggested that I might want to watch “North Country.” It was an excellent suggestion.
Sexual harassment. That is the central topic in this film. And how one woman decided to say: “Enough.” I struggled with two issues while watching this movie. First, could all of this have possibly happened? Could men really be that brutal and demeaning to women? Reluctantly, I concluded that they probably did. Consider how male soldiers will often treat women in time of war… And so that awful scene, of the “port-a-john,” probably happened, if not actually at this mine, then some other. Secondly, the sheer inadequacy of the term “sexual harassment” to describe such behavior. There are so many gradients covered by those two words, from an unwanted comment about a woman’s body, done more than once, to throwing a woman down on a slag heap, hopping on, but not actually “consummating” the “relationship.” I have to think how the term “female circumcision” was (and occasionally still is) used to describe the same act that is today much more appropriately called “female genital mutilation.”
Charlize Theron is an excellent actress who plays Josey Aimes, one woman, like so many, who drew some bad cards in life, including a husband who beats her, and whom she finally decides to leave. She has two kids that she must raise as a single mom. Frances McDormand plays the union representative (for the women) at the mine, and she gets Josey a job driving a truck. Welcome to the world of relentless sexual harassment. The film opens with the statement that in 1975, the iron mines of northern Minnesota hired their first female miner. By 1989, males still outnumbered females by 30 to 1. Throughout the movie, in the background on the TV, there are the news segments from the 1991 confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and the accusations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill.
And the Courtroom. Much of the ending to the movie is played out there. As at least one other reviewer indicated, the scene(s) were somewhat unrealistic in terms of what was being permitted. From my own perspective, it seems that virtually anything is permitted in a courtroom, so I was OK with the movie’s version. To me though, the real turning point does not come from the gavel of a judge but the willingness of one man to stand up in the union hall, and say, in effect: “I’ve been a Ranger all my life, and I now so ashamed of that label, for how we treat women.”
As a final personal point: I had a long-term friend whom I visited numerous times who lived just north of Bemidji, Minnesota. Though at almost the same latitude as Hibbing, Bemidji seems much more prosperous. My friend told me that those who lived “on the Range” had a much more hard-scrabble existence. And I felt this movie truly brought that aspect out as well, with the “hard-scrabble” life of the men only exacerbating their treatment of the women.
Overall, an excellent 5-star, plus movie, topical today, as I just read of the suicide of Jerry Epstein, who personified the even more terrible treatment of women by men at the other end of the economic and political spectrum.