Film Review: 'RBG'

Ben Miles

Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States in August of 1993. In the quarter-century that has passed since her rise to one of The Nine, Justice Ginsburg has been afflicted twice with cancer. Standing at 5 feet tall and weighing an estimated 100 pounds in judicial robes and her trademark collars (which are fashion accessories as well as statements that often indicate her position – either majority or minority – on the High Court’s decisions), Justice Ginsburg has become an unlikely American icon and a hero to feminists across the country and around the world.

Fittingly, a new documentary by co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West (released by Magnolia Pictures, which also distributed last year’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, “I’m Not Your Negro”) gives due justice to Justice Ginsburg. What’s more, in learning of Justice Ginsburg’s life, the ancient axiom – “Still waters run deep” – is reconfirmed by the example set by Associate Justice RBG.

Though diminutive in stature with a quiet demeanor, Justice Ginsburg is a force with which to be reckoned and respected. Foremost among her many attributes, which she utilizes with consistency and courage, are intelligence, modesty and persistence. In her earlier years she was a cheerleader, editor of her high school newspaper and an accomplished cello player in the school orchestra.

Justice Ginsburg’s love of the arts became a lifelong passion and provided a bridge over the differences in legal philosophy between her liberal-leaning interpretations of the law and arch-originalist Justice Antonin Scalia’s conservatism; long before his death in February of 2016, Justice Ginsburg and he became close companions, forming a friendship on the basis of their shared love of opera and world travel.

(In fact, an affectionate one-act opera by Derrick Wang titled “Scalia/Ginsburg” had its premiere in 2015 at the Castleton Festival in Castleton, Virginia, surely inspired by this legal odd couple’s mutual appreciation of the gloriously esoteric art form.)

But as impressive as Justice Ginsburg’s brilliant legal mind is, it’s the 56-year marriage she had with the late Martin Ginsburg that is a love story for the ages (Martin died in June, 2010); he was a man committed to his wife and her professional achievement more than to the traditional husband/wife roles dictated by mid-twentieth century American society (Martin Ginsburg was a well regarded New York tax attorney in his own right).

In 97 minutes, “RGB” delivers a life story that is as American as apple pie and as universal as a Greek tragedy. For people of all proclivities and dispositions “RGB” is a true-to-life and touching movie-going experience that reaches the intellect while piercing the emotions. It’s rated PG for mature themes; check local listings for show times.


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