The Grapes of Wrath

In The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad, a Depression-era everyman, leads his poor family on a harrowing journey from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to the promised land of California.  This adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel is a somber snapshot of America in the Depression.  A story of an era that fell upon hard financial times, showing the horrible conditions in the Depression and what it did to people. These, after all, were our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents dealing with this misery, and that gives it more teeth watching it in the current context. My grandmother has told me stories of how difficult life was when she was a child during the depression.  This movie gives me the feel of her stories.  The movie was made at the tail end of the great Dust Bowl migration, so it was probably all too painfully true for thousands of people who read the book and saw the movie at that time.  In making the masterpiece film, just as with the masterpiece novel by Jon Steinbeck, director John Ford was inspired by real events, including the Irish Potato Famine of 1847.  Watching this film is like watching a film about a historical “what if”. What if the USA was transformed into a “third world” developing country in the 20th Century? Indeed, by contemporary standards, an appreciable part of the United States was equivalent to a third world country in the 1930s when this film takes place. It powerfully and accurately portrays the expanding blight of the Midwestern crop failures brought on by drought and poor farming practices.  The film also shows how big business corrupted local and state officials into treating people poorly.  How do we each respond when we see people treated as if they are not human beings? What attitudes do we have that might produce such inhumanity? This movie challenges us to examine ourselves. The voluntary compassion and benevolence of ordinary people go long way toward solving the problem.  And how refreshing to see the fulcrum of family strength being represented by a woman, Ma Joad, a strong character who holds the family together.  This black and white film conveys subtle aspects of the mood of a scene. An actor may be lit only by a match as he lights a cigarette, conveying a feeling of the lonely life he is being forced into.  The story is true-to-life, and that adds a lot in my mind. Steinbeck traveled through the West and lived in California. He got to know these people and shared their stories and lives. The abuse and the starvation were real. The movie only shows a tiny part of it, but even that can be overwhelming.  I saw this again last night and, once again, was moved to tears throughout the movie. I have been watching this movie and reading the book since I was a young teenager, and they have informed my world-view. This film follows the book in many respects, but leaves out the most memorable part–the ending.  Steinbeck’s shocking and powerful ending is omitted entirely from this film.  It is profound, inspiring, sentimental and superbly executed. A testament to the fact that American art was at one time quite able and determined to communicate humanist ideals.  It’s weighty stuff, and it’s spectacularly executed by Ford.  He doesn’t sugarcoat anything while sticking you in the bread line.  This is a great film that shows America in a way that few other films dared at any time in American history.  A great emotional movie that reveals the desperation of people during the Great Depression.  This film is still relevant. The idea of 5,000 people applying for 1,000 jobs is not too different than our recession in 2011, so the film is certainly relevant. Poverty and homelessness are still with us today. Anyone who does not know what poverty is like should watch this. It shows hard times that people go through with poverty. Hope we don’t see these terrible things happen again. This film shows why the social safety net was needed. The message of the film is that capitalism must be tempered with a dose of socialism.  This is a very important film for everyone of all ages.  It’s an American story which far too few younger people know about today.  I like movies that teach you something, and this movie teaches us that we have to be strong and not give up if hard times come our way.  Aside from the message this film is one of the most beautiful films of John Ford. He directed several masterpieces, but this one is probably his greatest.  I’ll be one of the millions who have said it – this is one of the greatest films of all time.  Definitely, a must see movie.  Drama 1940 NR 128 minutes.


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