Sonntag, 7. Oktober 2018


It seems necessary to acknowledge two things at the outset of this review of RBG: first, that in terms of presentation, Betsy West and Julie Cohen's portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a fairly conventional work; and second, that is unapologetically partisan, in spite of its inclusion of a few conservative and conservative-adjacent voices.

Neither point undermines the project's ultimate success, however. Not only can those who are left craving a more nuanced, more balanced perspective follow up their viewing with Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker piece on Bader Ginsburg and RBG: Beyond Notorious, a six-part documentary podcast affiliated with West and Cohen's film. There's also the fact that RBG is less interested in being biographical and historical than in addressing the current political climate in the United States.

Considering its subject, this is more than warranted. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately nicknamed "The Notorious R.B.G." by her newly minted Millennial fan base, has become an unlikely focal point of American progressivism in recent years. At 85, she represents a generation that younger people, especially on the left of the political spectrum, tend to distrust, if not outright malign. Her well-publicised friendship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an ardent right-winger, whose death in 2016 caused a crisis from which the Court has yet to recover, has raised more than a few liberal eyebrows. Her long-standing insistence on compromise and calm, collected discourse seems at odds with an era in which the term "civility" is most often used by political operatives seeking to discredit opposition to increasingly authoritarian policies.

And yet, as America's political landscape has changed since Bill Clinton appointed Bader Ginsburg in 1993, so has the Supreme Court. After taking her seat on the bench as a centrist, confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Court's subsequent rightward shift, particularly following its controversial decision to effectively award the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000, has seen "RBG" become a leading voice of liberal dissent.

The Notorious R.B.G.
© Magnolia
West and Cohen carefully work their way up to "The Notorious R.B.G." the cultural icon – by way of Joan Ruth Bader the precocious child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Ruth Bader the Cornell student, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Harvard Law School graduate, Columbia professor, women's rights litigator, and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge. They paint an engaging portrait of an arresting personality, a brilliant legal mind, and a conscientious professional using the established mechanisms of the law to tackle the complex systems of oppression that underpin said law.

This is what makes RBG such a rousing experience, especially set against the United States' situation in this very moment – with a racist misogynist occupying the White House, a looming constitutional crisis, and a hyperpartisan credibly accused of multiple sexual assault being admitted to the Supreme Court after repeatedly lying in his confirmation hearing.

The film convincingly, and often touchingly, frames Bader Ginsburg as a major figure of America's past, present, and, one is left hoping by the end, its future. She serves as a symbol of principled resistance, of legal and above all intellectual pushback against the regressive spirit that has taken hold in American politics, and which is steadily gaining traction elsewhere. As much as it may tick all the stylistic boxes, RBG, by virtue of its extraordinary protagonist, is a truly inspiring movie.


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