know, a woman like you should be at home,
That's where you belong,
Watching out for someone who loves you true
Who would never do you wrong.
Just how much abuse will you be able to take?
Well, there's no way to tell by that first kiss.
What's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?
the heart of Minnesota's Mesabi iron range himself, Bob Dylan's lyrical
questions readily fit the context of Niki Caro's North Country,
which is loosely based on Lois Jensen's landmark 1984 sexual harassment case against Eveleth Mines. Caro's
generous selection of Dylan material for the soundtrack is one of the
better decisions the director of Whale Rider makes for his
latest project, as the genius songwriter's roots spring from this north
country and the lyrics emphasize the film's themes. At least the
outstanding music distinguishes this movie from other similar projects
like Silkwood and Norma Rae. Make no mistake about it; this is an issue movie that
blatantly examines power and sexual harassment
in the workplace.
few years later to more conveniently dovetail with Anita Hill's graphic
testimony about Clarence Thomas, North Country begins with
abused wife Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) moving out with her two kids
to her parent's house in northern Minnesota. De-glamorized (but not to
the extent she was in Monster), Theron's character soon begins working
in the mine to support her family since it pays six times what she can
mine worker, Josey's father isn't keen on the idea but he's been
embarrassed of his daughter ever since high school when she bore her
first child out of wedlock. Contrasting with beautiful overhead shots
of clouds and white smoke emanating from the mine, the surface
environment is dark, gritty, and foreboding--populated with the
grossest male chauvinist pigs ever gathered
together for an ensemble cast. No subtlety here, these ogres shout out
sexual retorts, suggestively grab their crotches, hide dildos in the
women's lunch boxes, and graffiti their "powder room."
Josey does find support from union
representative and friend Glory (Frances McDormand, delightfully
reprising her Fargo
accent), who is married to one of the rare non-sexist men in northern
Minnesota in Kyle (Sean Bean). Glory has fought in the past to gain
some employment gains for women and she continues to do what she can,
but doesn't see how they can deal with the sexual harassment given the power structure. Josey
mistakenly thinks that the suave, well dressed mine owner will
sympathetically hear her grievances only to discover that he is much
like those Senators that didn't really listen to Anita Hill.
Like any melodrama, it's easy to tell the
good "guys" from the bad as we travel through the predictable
narrative. Caro has his heart in the right place, so North
Country will resonate with
mainstream viewers that are certain to agree with the film's feminist
sentiments. That's why distributors banked on the film's star power and
formula "happy ending" to bring an arthouse project to multi-plexes to
recoup the investment for excellent acting talent and high production
As far as shelf life, Caro's film is
destined for the same region as other single issue films and may be
brought out whenever workplace sexual harassment comes up. It's not a bad film and has a
few memorable touching moments the father's reconciliation with his
daughter, a mother's first heartfelt talk with her troubled son, and
McDormand's physically challenged character continuing to fight on and
tell a manipulative lawyer to "fuck off." And there's all those Dylan
songs playing over the snow covered and gritty landscape, reminding us
all to continue fighting for the things that are important:
gravel road is bumpy,
It's a hard road to ride,
But there's a clearer road a-waitin'
With the cinders on the side.
Trails of troubles,
Roads of battles,
Paths of victory,
We shall walk.