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Movie Review

To have and to hold. For better or worse. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. 'Til death do us part.

Richard and Mildred Loving never exchanged those marital vows. Their union was sealed in a court, not a church. But they knew what they were getting themselves into.

Even the best of marriages have their troubles. And Richard, a white man, and Mildred, a black woman, knew that their union—cemented in 1958, when the South was still heavily segregated—might bring its own unique brand of troubles.

The Lovings were ready for them all. Or so they thought.

Sure, they knew they couldn't get married in Virginia. Interracial marriage had been illegal there since 1924. So Richard and Mildred get hitched in Washington D.C., then head back home to Caroline County, Va. to start their lives. Once the knot's tied, the state wouldn't try to cut it, right?

Late one night while Mildred and Richard are asleep, the county sheriff and a couple of deputies sneak into the couple's bedroom and arrest them. Before being dragged away, Richard points to the marriage license hanging on the wall.

"That's no good here," the sheriff says.

It's not long before Mildred and Richard are hauled before the judge. The couple's lawyer cops a plea for the couple: If they admit to their guilt, they'll be technically sentenced to their obligatory year in prison, but that sentence will be suspended—if the Lovings agree to not set foot in the state for 25 years.

The Lovings accept the deal. What choice do they have? They move north to D.C., eking out a paltry life as their family grows from two to five. But Mildred desperately misses Virginia. The cold city street they live on has few trees, little grass, no open spaces for her children to run. She watches a civil rights march on TV led by a young Martin Luther King Jr. And even though the march is just 125 miles away in Philadelphia, Mildred says it "might as well be halfway 'round the world."

"All this talk of civil rights," a friend says to Mildred. "You need to get yourself some civil rights."

So Mildred grabs a pen and paper and begins to write to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. If anyone can help her and Richard, she figures, maybe he can.

For better or worse, the vows say. For Richard and Mildred Loving, their marriage has been marked by a whole lotta worse. Now Mildred's determined to get some better.

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Positive Elements

Loving is based on the real legal battle of Richard and Mildred Loving. From the time they were first arrested to their eventual victory in the Supreme Court, it was a fight that lasted nearly 11 years.

Obviously their trials—in both senses of that word—were instrumental in opening the door to long overdue civil rights progress, and as such they're rightly lauded as heroes. But the movie doesn't leave the matter there. While many in the movie see the Lovings' relationship as either an affront to the natural order or a landmark case to overturn legal precedent, the double-entendre title Loving reminds us that this is, more than anything, a love story.

Richard is a hardworking provider who, for the most part, lets his actions speak for him: Gruff and often uncomfortable with the growing publicity surrounding them, Rich doesn't care much about legal precedent: He simply wants to live in peace with his wife, in Virginia if they can. He's absolutely devoted to her and will do anything to protect her. He refuses the invitation to attend the Supreme Court hearing. But when Bernie Cohen, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and the man who's advancing the Lovings' case, asks Richard if he'd like to relay any message to the court, Richard says simply, "Tell the judge I love my wife."

Mildred gracefully takes the lead in the legal proceedings. She's the one who writes to Bobby Kennedy. She's the one who commits to meeting with Bernie Cohen. When the lawyers come around and the media starts circling, she's the one, more often than not, to speak. But when Richard refuses an invitation to the Supreme Court, Mildred—somewhat reluctantly—stands by her husband: "I wouldn't go without him," she tells Cohen.

Spiritual Content

The only context in which religion appears here is, alas, in opposition to the Lovings' relationship. We first hear the supposed religious justification against interracial marriage from Sheriff Brooks. "It's God's law," he tells Richard. "They're different for a reason."

That "reason" is echoed in the language used in the 1924 law forbidding interracial marriage (which is quoted in the movie): "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Sexual Content

Mildred is pregnant when the movie begins—and well before she and Richard legally seal their union. We see the couple kiss and hold one another affectionately. Her sister makes the only crass allusion to their sexual relationship: "You can stop looking at his string bean," she says. "You know it's purty."

When Mildred is first jailed, the Sheriff marches a leering man past her cell. "I should put you in with her tonight," the Sheriff tells him, trying to frighten Mildred before her release.

Violent Content

One of the Loving children gets hit by a car. He's fine—just some cuts and bruises, Mildred tells Richard—but it's the last straw when it comes to her willingness to keep living in the city. Mildred wants to move the family somewhere where her kids can play safely.

Richard and Mildred are yanked out of bed when they're first arrested. Richard finds a brick in his car, wrapped in a Life magazine story about him and his wife. As he drives home one night, another car seems to be tailing him: Once he arrives, he asks his son to run to a friend's house and tell the friend to come over with a gun. He does, and the two watch for trouble (that never comes) from Richard's front porch.

Richard's mother is a midwife, and audiences see her helping deliver two babies. Neither birth is graphic, but we do see Richard dump out some bloody water during the procedure.

We learn from a slide at the end of the movie that the real Richard Loving was killed by a drunk driver seven years after the Supreme Court verdict.

Crude or Profane Language

One s-word and a smattering of other profanities, including a couple uses each of "a--," "b--tard" and "d--n." The n-word is used three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Richard and others smoke frequently. We see him drinking with some friends at a bar, downing beer and whiskey. Others drink beer and perhaps moonshine at a party.

Other Negative Elements

Richard and Mildred obviously violate Virginia's (admittedly bad) law at the time forbidding interracial marriage. And when Mildred's due with the couple's first baby, they break the terms of their previous sentence so that Richard's mother can deliver the child in Virginia.

Richard and friends tinker with vehicles for drag racing competitions (that they also bet on), some of which take place on country roads.

Conclusion

To have and to hold. For better or worse. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. 'Til death do us part.

The Lovings never said those exact words. But they stayed true to both the letter and spirit of them throughout their marriage, even when the state itself tried to rip them apart. Had they done what so many couples regularly do today—just live together with no legal ties and no formal commitments—they'd have been fine, the movie suggests. "You never should've married that girl," Richard's mother tells him. "This is all your fault," Mildred's sister shouts at him in the face of cascading legal trouble. Still another friend suggests to Richard that he could make all these troubles go away with a simple two-syllable word: divorce.

Nearly everyone wishes that Richard and Mildred would've just left well enough alone. Everyone but Richard and Mildred, that is. But Richard and Mildred wanted to make it official. They wanted to make it legal. They wanted to do the right thing.

Loving, with its intimate scale and sparse content concerns, is an accessible, sometimes beautiful story about one couple's love. But just as importantly, it's also about the legal sanctification of that love: The public acknowledgement that this man and that woman are not two but one—united, indivisible, 'til death do them part.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Ruth Negga as Mildred; Joel Edgerton as Richard; Will Dalton as Virgil; Sharon Blackwood as Lola; Terri Abney as Garnet; Alano Miller as Raymond; Christopher Mann as Theoliver; Marton Csokas as Sheriff Brooks; Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen; Jon Bass as Phil Hirschkop; Michael Shannon as Grey Villet

Director

Jeff Nichols ( Mud)

Distributor

Focus Features

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 4, 2016

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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