Film Critique of the Grapes of Wrath

1 January 2017

The Grapes of Wrath was a 1940s film adapted from the novel by John Steinbeck. It graphically depicts the trials and tribulations of a mid-western American farming family, the Joads. It is set during the strife of the 1920s great depression and the seven-year drought of the mid 1930s, which devastated thousands of working families. It recreates the intensity of the socio-economic impact of the Great Depression. This picturesque film has an honest and naturalistic structure and appearance beginning with the style of black and white film.

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The low-lit scenes that were perhaps provided by candlelight alone contributed to many dark and down trodden moods throughout the film. Vast landscape scenes of the wide-open spaces of the American frontier were excellently shot and molded by the films amazing cinematographer and also by the Academy Award winning director, John Ford. The windy, dry and desolate climate portrayed in first opening scenes, early 20th century vehicles and dress provided more then sufficient evidence of the time period and then it is revealed the location to be in the state of Oklahoma.

Ever present is the bewilderment cascading off a lonesome man just released from prison in search of his family. This development in plot likely becomes the first strong pluck to the viewer’s heartstrings. The Film accurately shapes the view from one family in the epic move to a new home in the 1930s drought when there was simply nowhere else to go. The notice to “get-off” was all too common in this time of the depression and it is shown magnificently in this film.

Forced to become a migrant family the Joads pack up and depart from their old dried up land. Evicted from the land they thought to have owned and earned it is apparent in his body as a neighborhood character telling his own story of ‘the day a man came by’ and in frustration he shouts“…born on it, worked on it, and die on it! ” The plight of the Joad family is just one reflection of the thousands of other tenant farmers during the country’s economic crisis that suffered from oppression imposed by the banks and big mechanized farm interests.

Gradually the family’s slow disintegration provides insight into the thousands of Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, and Kansas families who were evicted and uprooted from their family land. Setting their eyes on California as a safe haven and land of “milk and honey”, as they find that much too many did as well, was all they had to keep spirits bright and the hope of a new home alive. As members of the family struggle on a long trip where ‘Grandpa’ then ‘Grandma’ pass away and it becomes apparent that the heart of the movie belongs to two characters.

First, ‘Ma’ is centered to represent the backbone and strong will of the family to succeed. She believes that the working people should continue to endure the hardships come what may and works her best to keep the family together. She is concerned early in the film the possibilities of her son’s pain throughout his sentence in prison. She doesn’t want “no mean son”. She worries on what she can do for the little children who come to them during dinner in hopes of receiving a meal for the day when they are set up in camp.

The other heart of the film is the character of ‘Tom Joad’, played by Henry Fonda. He is a ex-con with a bit of a hot head that establishes a remarkable will and resilient spirit of an “Okie” whom refuses to be beaten down by every twist and turn. He personifies the common workingman’s hunger for justice and respect. All he wants is a fair wage and the dignity he earns without having to compete with big business and corrupt government heads to do it. He be-friends an ex-preacher, a familiar face but a lost soul in town whom the family invites along for the journey.

Tom reflects upon the words and actions of ‘Casey’ later in the movie when he departs from the camp to relieve the rest of the family from the trouble sure to be heading his way. From my view I can confidently say that the economic statements matched up to our previous and current readings in class. The villains were depicted as the corporate figures and corrupt police force. The innocent workers just trying to make a living showed true heart, as anyone would have imagined in history or in their own ancestors.

It was easy to pick out major themes such s the overall importance of family, the suffering and oppression of the farmers of that time, the hollowness of the American Dream, the display of human dignity and spirit in the face of adversity, and issues of social and economic justice. These themes often occur today and with outstanding similarities. This film even mirrors our modern day economic issues with banks foreclosing on families homes, declining wages, the decreasing value of the American dollar, the desperate search for work, people living out of their cars and the danger of being without healthcare.

The film has a somewhat dark and sullen tone to it, but in the ending scene it’s apparent that this film was created to not just entertain and enlighten the viewers of the 1940s, but also to inspire, and document the struggles for future generations to come of how bad things can get. How we as a society should not take property, freedom, food on our tables, and clothes on our backs for granted. Nor should we lie in the dirt and give up when we are pushed to the ground. Life is worth fighting for, not running away from.

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