Film Review: RBG (2018) DIRS Betsy West, Julie Cohen
By: Belle McIntyre
The unexpected rockstar status of Ruth Bader Ginsburg at age 84 has taken her by surprise.
But the small, soft-spoken Supreme Court Judge has taken to celebrity with some alacrity, allowing the filmmakers access to personal photos of her early years as a young girl, student, bride, wife and mother. She also lets them follow her into the gym with her trainer as she does a fairly rigorous workout for such a frail-looking octogenarian.
The film is a fairly straightforward bio-pic which tells her story chronologically and allows her own voice and words to describe the circumstances and details of her life. It is both shocking and inspiring to discover that she was i of only 9 women in a class of 500 at Harvard all of whom were asked why they felt that they should be taking a place that could be occupied by a man. Can you even imagine being asked such a question today? After she made Law Review in her second year (rare even for male students), it became obvious that she would be a force to be reckoned with. But that would take some time, as she discovered when she was unable to be hired by any law firm by virtue of her gender. Therefore it is fitting that her first case before the Supreme Court would be representing a woman officer in the Air Force who was not receiving the same benefits as men of her same rank. Her victory was a stunning landmark for the cause with which she became thoroughly engaged and would define her legal career. Her quiet low-key speaking voice delivering brilliant arguments for and withering dissents against cases, became text book examples of legal virtuosity and laser-like reasoning.
The combination of an almost super human work ethic, a minimal need for sleep and Marty, a phenomenally supportive husband, who appreciated her brain, recognized her brilliance and put her career ahead of his own, allowed her the good fortune to be able to vigorously pursue her career, maintain a marriage which lasted 56 years and a rewarding motherhood. Notably, Marty Ginsburg loved to cook and was very good at it. He had a healthy enough sense of himself not to be threatened by his wife’s growing reputation. It certainly appears that their marriage was one of enviable affection and mutual supportiveness which never flagged.
As a member of a fairly conservative Supreme Court she found herself on the losing side of a number of important decisions and her dissents became famous and oft-quoted cries for more humane views of justice in our country. (The biography of RBG was titled I Dissent) Impressions and assessments of her years on the bench and her influence as a civilian, particularly her wry sense of humor and clever turns of phrase, are provided by such notables as Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, Arthur Miller, Orin Hatch and Nina Totenberg of NPR. And, as a measure of her humanity and openness, we learn of her deep friendship with the arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, whose views were anathema to hers. But theirs was a friendship forged over a passionate love of opera, which they enjoyed together.
Her’s is a life well-lived and a very inspiring example of how hard work, diligence and a passionate commitment to something larger than oneself can be rewarded and leave a huge mark on history. And she is still going full steam with no plans to pack it in. Thank God for that. We really need her now. May she live to be 100.