An unintelligent, drug-addicted, recently impregnated woman finds herself in the middle of an abortion debate when both parties attempt to sway her to their side.
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Citizen Ruth is a film I didn't see until after watching all of Alexander Payne's other films. It was just one of those films I seemed to have missed for the last 13 years. And when I finally watched it I was amazing how great this film was.
This is the type of low budget film you make in order to jumpstart your career and get audiences to watch it. Take a polarizing issue in our current time and tell both sides of the story without tipping your own personal opinion on the matter. Abortion is the topic just for that because it's an issue that every single human being has an opinion on. And it's an issue that has two radical organizations out there to defend its issue.
I am pro-choice but aborting a pregnancy shouldn't be taken lightly. So I get how certain people can be pro-life. But those radicals who hold court in front of an abortion clinic are some of the strangest people I'm come across from an observers point of view. I think it's the religious angle they use to get their agendas across to people is what bothers me the most. It's extremely manipulative and extremely dangerous to instill on people who are still figuring out their true values on life. Telling them that the pregnancy is not the woman's baby but God's baby crosses the line of ethics. What does that really mean? I've never understood organized religion even though it's really my job to do because my job is to understand the heartbeat of human nature and religion is such a big part of it. I am a spiritual person and I get the fact of believing in things that really can't be scientifically explained. Those beliefs come from my instincts. But they are only my absolute truths and who am I to tell others what to think.
And who gives anyone the right to tell a woman what to do with her body? She should be able to do whatever she wants with it, shouldn't see?
Citizen Ruth though gives us the other side of the radicals. The pro-choice people who also have their own agenda. Because I am on their side and are prejudiced to their way of thinking, it's hard for me to see their own craziness and selfishness. But I know it's there and Alexander Payne tells it wonderfully. This is a great filmmaker in my opinion because when you watch this film you have no idea what side he's on himself. He tells the story of Citizen Ruth from such an objective point of view and that's brilliant filmmaking.
There's a lot of irony in filmmaking and the #1 irony is that you must look at your film from a non-emotional point of view in order to tell the story properly so you can let us audience be emotional and care for its story and characters. Citizen Ruth is a great film for young filmmakers to look at because Alexander Payne was young at the time when he made it. And he executed rule #1 brilliantly.
This is also a movie mocking the capitalistic system. While both sides fight with each other, they both miss out on the big picture of things and really lose focus on their own beliefs. We live in a free world where we can believe in whatever we like. Of course free speech has its consequences as if the world you live in has a problem with what you say, then you might have some trouble. So you must pick your spots. Or in the in case of the two sides on the abortion issue, team up and concur. And the downside of capitalism is that winning becomes more important than what you really value. Winning is a virus that can be used for good and for evil. What happens is that we want to win so badly, we'll do anything to obtain it. And we forget why we started the fight in the first place.
You see it in political races all the time. John McCain in the last US election was saying things he obviously didn't believe in because he thought that's what the people wanted to hear. And it was what his party wanted to hear. So he was compromising his true values for the sake of trying to win. And when you do that even if you win, you really lose. Or at least that's what I think. Idealistic statement yes, but we all have them.
So the pro-choice group vs the pro-life group in Citizen Ruth really loses focus on what the real issue is. Because winning is only what matters to them. And the question becomes, why do they want to win so badly? It is because they really care about the issue of abortion or is it because they just want to win? Winning is an addictive thing because losing sucks so badly.
Caught in the middle is Ruth herself. The one who is pregnant. Ruth (played by Laura Dern) is basically a child in a woman's body. She talks like a child and acts like a child and really doesn't care either way if the child is aborted or not. And even a child can see how to play this situation to their benefit as Ruth eventually figures out. While Ruth lives with a pro-life family and then a pro-choice family, she is listening to a self-help tape on how to own your own home. The monologue on the tape is as black and white and basic as the people on both sides of the abortion issue. It's a temporary way to get things done but in the end every person and every situation is different. We live in a complex world and there usually aren't just yes or no answers. Or this way or that way situations to resolve things.
Citizen Ruth is a terrific film and it shows you that with little money, a solid team of creators and a polarizing story can take you a long way. Just as it did for Alexander Payne.