Thursday, 17 March 2016
We live in a world where women are not equal to men. Sure, things are improving all the time, and by now only the truly imbecile would publicly suggest women are intrinsically inferior to men (at least in public), but there used to be a time - not that long ago - where things were far worse. Suffragette, the movie, focuses on a pivotal moment in the history of women's rights: England during the early 20th century and the struggle of women there to earn their right to vote (a right that has been oddly named "suffrage").
It is worth pointing out that, by then, the women of New Zealand and Australia already won that particular fight. In a way that is not so incomprehensible, given Britain's affection with tradition potentially holding it back. However, I suspect there was more to it than that and the economy played a role in addition to wisdom.
The makers of Suffragette chose to deliver their message by personalising it. Suffragette offers us a character to identity with, Maude (Carey Mulligan). Maude is a multifaceted women, like all people are, but with issues directly related to her time and place in history. She is a worker in a cloth washing factory, working in conditions that defy all modern day OHS standards; she was deprived of what we take for granted as the pleasures of childhood, working from a very young age; once she's home from work she is expected to look after her son while the husband (Ben Whishaw, aka James Bond’s Q) is not expected much of.
Being pinned in a shit situation without the right to vote isn't Maude's only problem: as Suffragette clearly points out, our hero and her child are considered their husband's property; the authorities, made mostly of men, can do almost whatever that comes to their mind to her; and all the while, she is earning much less than her husband for doing what is clearly a harder job.
As for plot, the movie takes us through the nearly random way in which Maude finds herself in the midst of the struggle for women to earn the right to vote. I do not know if our hero's character is based on a historical figure, or whether some of the characters she encounters along the way (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep to name some of the more famous) are historical figures. That said, some of the events in this movie certainly are.
Ultimately, this Suffragette presents a snippet of a very stacked up battle between men and women. Yes, a fight that is still going on today, as mirrored by Gamergate through lesser salaries even in Western society. The fight for equal rights is never ending and is wrought with blood and tears, to sum up this movie's message, yet there are small victories along the way.
Is Suffragette a good movie, though? I find myself unable to provide a good answer. On one hand, the portrayal of historical events is important and the message itself is clearly very important. On the other, Suffragette works too hard to squeeze viewers into an emotional corner while failing to round the edges up. Too many characters lack definition, while too many threads are thrown at us simply as a means to shock us viewers with.
Personally, I was left wondering how the fight for women's rights would have fared under today's surveillance society. We live in a world where the President of the USA is mocking us, telling us off for "fetishising our phones" when we ask for privacy. You’d think he’d know better, coming from a clearly disadvantaged black background. In parallel, authorities are chanting the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" mantra in justification of them monitoring our every movement, every call and every online interaction. Now, imagine what that kind of control would have done to women's rights: after all, at the time the women of Suffragette were fighting for illegal causes. How many good causes are thus being squashed today by the great powers ruling our lives? Maybe in a century's time someone will do a movie about those and make each of us look as big an idiot as the bulk of Suffragette’s men are.
Overall: Suffragette may not be the best movie ever, but it is a movie worth watching for educational purposes. I'm giving it 3 out of 5 crabs.