North Country: Movie Summary & Analysis
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The movie “North Country” is based on the events surrounding Lois Jenson and a small coal mining town in northern Minnesota. In 1989 Josey Aimes (based on Lois Jenson) flees her abusive husband with her two children and moves in with her parents. In order to support her family she takes a job at the coal mine where her father works. Soon enough she finds out women are constant targets of intimidation, ridicule, and aggression in the mines; She's no acception. These were the circumstances that led up to the Lois vs Eveleth Taconite Company Supreme Court case, that changed sexual harassment law in the U.S.
After the case testimonies unraveled, great light was shown on the injustice women suffered in the workplace. Reform was needed to insure equal protection of the law. Prior to the court decision there was no outlet for woman to voice their concerns and needs as workers. Men ran the hierarchy of the business, where slander and intimidation seemed to keep the woman under their thumb. There complaints were discredited with accusations of sexual promiscuity. A woman's rumored sexual behavior seemed to be linked with how she was treated in the work place.
In the movie "North Country" constant accusations of adultery circled Josey, causing her frustrations to grow. First she told her boss about having her life threatened on an 100 ft. platform, and about constant sexual aggression. He responds, “Be a man about it.” Then she found no other recourse but to go to the head boss after being assaulted. When she arrived there, she was met with a panel of men who lectured her about keeping her behavior under control and focusing on her work. She was hardly allowed to speak and made the perpetrator of her own victimization. These meetings represented a problem in America's legislature to protect workers.
Eveleth Taconite Company was blatantly violating what seems to be a basic ethical code. The need for legislation to protect women was obvious, but somebody had to carry that message. In order to get the class action suit through, at least three women had to present a case. Afraid to lose their jobs or experience more backlash, many were afraid to speak. So Josey fought her case alone at first, continuously being slandered and called a liar. The need for unity became most evident at this moment.
Anytime a civil rights movement succeeds there's someone to speak the message and a unified group behind them. When other members of the miners union decided to stand up with Josey in the court room, the jury was swayed to order the first sexual harassment class action lawsuit in U.S. history.
In the movie "North Country," Josey began as a stay at home mom raising her two kids. The abuse she suffer forced her to take on a different role for her family. After she gets her first paycheck, Josey buys her kids a trampoline. In this scene we see the beginning of that role change. She's now in the position where she needs to hold down a steady job and provide for her family. Her changing needs require her to be strong and courageous as she faces a dangerous and explicit work environment. The attacks left her with a decision to continue to be victimized or protect herself and her future.
Josey's son also went through emotional change throughout the film. He was forced to hear derogatory names hurled at his mom during a hockey game and at school. After feeling embarrassed he begins developing anger towards his mom. He comes home yelling, “ Why can't you cook and clean like everyone else's mom!” He was embarrassed by the ridicule. Through a conversation with a male family friend, he is able to see the truth and experiences a change of heart. He realizes that she was doing whatever it took to protect and to provide for her son.
All the women working in the mines were doing a job outside the social norm. They were forced to endure terrible hazing. Some were forced into silence by intimidation and others had a sense of pride for being able to put up with it. They constantly scorned Josey for making their life's harder, chuckling at her attempts for change. When she asked for their help she was left alone. The moment of change for the woman came after a testimony from Josey. They witnessed the vulnerability in her one woman attempt; an effort that would fall short with only one claim. Quickly the courtroom got charged with support as women stood to give their testimony. As the opportunity for change arose the woman of the coal mine united with Josey, leaving their silence behind.
Another surprising character in "North Country" would also come to Josey's aid. Ever since Josey got pregnant at 16 her father held her in low regard. He thought of her as an embarrassment on the family. As she's being ridiculed at work and around town, he complains about how she's making his life more difficult. It isn't until she speaks in front of the union and begins to be drowned by boo's that her father comes to her rescue. He asks the workers why they call the women at work names, but at the company picnic there somebodies wife or daughter. He seemed to have a change of heart at this moment, feelings his daughters pain, he saw the situation in a different light.
Entertainment Value & Personal Reflection in "North Country"
The visuals in this film provide a good sense of the time and environment. North Country does a fine job portraying the intensity of the situation with dramatic scenes of aggression, harsh language, and vile pranks( tipping the outhouse over with a girl in it). It was obvious how problems of abuse and mis-conduct could develop in the spacious and isolated work areas. Images of dead rats smeared on the walls showed the horror of what they may face each day. The dark and grungy environment supplied a great backdrop to tell this story.
The acting in the movie captured the emotion on both ends of the struggle. I wasn't aware that women were provided with so few rights as workers. Sexual assault was a large problem in the male run company and North Country shined light on that fact. It revealed a prominent mentality in the rural mining community, one that violated the rights of women. The sense of brotherhood and loyalty to the union was used an excuse to keep up the injustice. Woman were treated as if they didn't belong there and if you disagreed, you weren't being loyal to your union brothers.
The film showed the need of legal protection for women in all types of work places. The film also portrayed a tense home life. Josey's family was broken from the abuse, her father ashamed by accusations of infidelity against his daughter and her son constantly running away in shame. The chaos surrounding her seemed to be getting out of control. The film gave a realistic feel of the pressures of a single mom and brought understanding to the need for strict workplace laws.
I enjoyed this movie a lot. I thought they did a good job with the story, showing the urgency of the situation. Josey's character was well acted and had a lot of passion. The family was realistic in the sense of family dynamics. The relationships were believable and developed well. They related to each other in a no non-sense kind of way, but when it came down to it they put each other first. The intense scenes of conflict are what kept me intrigued. The scenes of sexual abuse were infuriating, stirring up connection to the character. The injustice kept me engaged as I cheered on the cause of the fighting women.
I liked the development of all the characters in "North Country". It was interesting to see Josey's grow as a person, but never really change her values. She put her family first no matter what. Her stability seem to be the cause of change for other characters, such as her father and son. Though they stopped loving her, she continued to do what was best. As far as a drama goes this movie was entertaining. The dramatic dialogue and grungy imagery provided a captivating story in the film "North Country."
© 2009 Brian M. Loewer All rights reserved.
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