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Film Review: ‘Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words’ is a Love Letter Worthy of the Notorious RBG

Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock’s new documentary Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is nothing short of a stunning portrait of an incredible life. The film beautifully illustrates Justice Ginsburg’s career, personal life, and unexpected rise to pop culture icon in seamless parallel threads. Viewers can’t help but realize that Ginsburg was not just a powerhouse lawyer, judge, and Supreme Court Justice, but an incredible individual with a compelling life story inextricable from her achievements. The film takes a fond, loving look at Ginsburg’s life, from her inability to find a job after law school to her groundbreaking gender equality work to her personal relationships and legacy. No stone is left unturned in this documentary when it comes to celebrating Justice Ginsburg, and the best part is that the wealth of footage of Ginsburg herself allows viewers to feel like we get to know her in greater complexity, even if only for 90 minutes.

There have been seemingly countless films, books, news features, articles, and even memes and merchandise produced to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her image over the years, so much of her life story may by now be common knowledge, but what sets apart Ruth- Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is the combination of intimacy and comprehensive scope the film achieves. Including direct footage of Ginsburg herself is important, but the real strength is in Mock’s intuitive approach to stringing the various interviews, public appearances, and court recordings in such a way that it truly feels as though Ginsburg is speaking to the story the film tells. Mock’s keen eye resists the recent online trend (especially since her death) to turn Ginsburg into a caricature or a symbol, and reminds us that she is a full person that we both get to know and grow to greatly like personally, beyond the professional respect we already feel for her.

In addition to the expertly curated words of Ginsburg herself, the film features footage of and interviews with individuals from varied cross sections of her life and the society her work has helped shape. In fond reflections from people who have worked alongside Ginsburg professionally and built relationships with her personally, viewers are granted a window into Ginsburg as a person, and the ways in which her soft spoken, direct, eloquent demeanor added to and complemented her fearsome intellect and never-ending drive to rewrite and faithfully interpret legislation to create a better world. Interviews with colleagues and individuals helped by her work, and footage of her husband and children complete the portrait of Ginsburg as a woman who lived a full life, with equally important and worthy personal and professional elements.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the film is the way it frames Ginsburg’s life, experiences, and values in a way that creates a vitally important and prescient dialog with the state of our world today. While the film seems to have been nearly finalized in a time before her death, one interview subject even saying that Ginsburg is “in great shape,” this somewhat shocking and outdated assertion reminds us that Ginsburg was tireless in her work until the very end of her life. Ginsburg herself comments on the world she has since left behind her, calling for a return in our society to the “unity” and “collegiality” her Supreme Court had always prioritized in their working relationships. Her call to action dovetails poetically with her close friendship with colleague Justice Scalia. Mock highlights that Ginsburg not only called for unity and civility in others, she lived it herself. Constant ideological and professional rivals, Ginsburg and Scalia are showcased in the film as nevertheless sharing a beautiful personal bond. The heart breaks when Ginsburg reflects, after Scalia’s death, that she will miss “her sparring partner,” exemplifying and instilling a glimmer of hope that the unity of people can coexist with disparate ideas and ideals, and that in fact it is respectful conversations in which we “attack ideas, not people” that can create the unity Ginsburg feels our country has recently lost sight of. The poetry of this message in the film proves worthy of the grace, kindness, and thoughtfulness with which Justice Ginsburg perpetually carried herself.

Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is essential viewing for any American today who needs an infusion of hope for the future. In a time when hope seems fleeting and hard to grasp, and the future is anything but certain, this film is a love letter not just to Ginsburg herself but to the aspirational “more perfect Union” she dedicated her life’s work to striving towards. Here we see 20th and 21st legislative and judicial history through the eyes of someone who did not despair or turn a blind eye when faced with seemingly insurmountable systemic injustice, but instead calmly began to pave the way for change and never stopped–with uncompromising, steadfast dissent when necessary. Find Ruth – Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words in Virtual Cinemas starting 2/12, and TVOD starting 3/9. 

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Casey Tinston

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