Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath - Movie Review

The book was deeply impactful. A superb piece of writing by John Steinbeck in the 1930s. The movie was made in 1940 and is as stark and as full of human misery, hope and courage as the book was. It follows the same story - Tom Joad returns from prison to find his parents evicted form their lands in Oklahoma. The lands have been taken over thanks to the gradual mechanisation. With no lands and no source of livelihood, the miserable people leave for California based on handbills they see with promises of jobs and a good life. Little do they know that many such are moving westward.

A little into the movie and you are seized by a hopelessness that is difficult to shake away. Tom Joad and his strong willed mother, who carries on as if nothing happened with her mother's dead body in her lap (to avoid trouble at the borders), a despairingly optimistic father, and many more members of the family get into an old jalopy that carries their life belongings. They are joined by Casy, an ex-preacher, who has nothing else to do. The grandfather dies, the grandma dies, some members go away, some desert them,but the family moves on discovering reality of unemployment, deceit, mob fury and the downsides of capitalism in camps that are a terrible advertisement for life. But you cannot keep the high spirited Tom out of action and he stands up for what's right and gets into more trouble. Casy becomes a communist leader and is killed and Tom stands up for that. In the end Tom finds his cause and purpose, of standing up for injustice in this world that the peasants do not really understand. It ends on a note hope because Tom is not someone you can ignore, someone you can pushover.

The relation between Tom and his mother stands out so specially, the strong confidantes looking out for the rest of the flock. Tom's character is beautifully developed as he starts on a slightly negative note and blossoms into a hero. Scenes in the bakery where Father Joad buys his loaf and no more because he wants to save his money for the rest of the trip kill you because they are full of human kindness and consideration for the other human being. The shop owner lets him half his loaf  at a lower price saying that its yesterday's bread and the saleswoman lies about the price of  candy so the two little children can eat that and not make a hole in the old man's pocket. And to top it all the truckers who notice this entire episode leave her a big tip. Its wonderful, that scene because it shows just how we can live if we share and care and understand, something only the people down below seem to have the capacity to. (And if anything can make one cry its a kind act or word really.) I loved that scene and can watch it again and again. Tom Joad telling his mother that he will take up the fight and will be where there is any injustice committed and so on is wonderful to watch just as the old mother's steely affirmation that their spirit can never be crushed because they will keep on coming. They are the people. They are honest, hard working proud and kind. They will give more than they will take. They will never give up.

The book left a deep mark on me and the movie did too. Henry Fonda as Tom Joad stands out.If you've read the book, watch the movie too. I cannot get over the fact that stories were told so simply, so impactfully those days with the little technology they had. Now there's all technology and no creativity really.

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