Published on June 24th, 2016 | by Don Guillory0
Free State Of Jones
When we look at the Civil War period, we are often confronted with numbers: the numbers of the dead, the numbers of those fighting, the pay, the amount of bullets and munitions used. One thing we rarely discuss is depth with regard to the people and circumstances surrounding the war. We are concerned with particular battles and what major leaders were victorious or fell. We, either through school or the collective of movies created about the period, do not get to see the people for who they are and the variables surrounding their existence during this period. We do not have the ability to comprehend how the war affected them in losing their property, loved ones, or even how they face starvation and violence. We don’t get the chance to see slaves other than a myopic, generalized representation that doesn’t show us how they were able to survive in the face of danger multiple sides. The Free State of Jones corrects many of the mistakes and missed opportunities of previous films, of which there are many, that deal with slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, and the South.
In The Free State of Jones, Matthew McConaughey plays Newt Knight a southerner who begins to see the hypocrisy of the Civil War and deserts from the Confederate Military. Upon his return he seeks to support his relatives and neighbors who are being taken advantage of by the Confederacy. His movement grows to where he and an army of men and women of different backgrounds begin fighting back against the Confederacy in the attempt to assert their autonomy and sovereignty.
The film is beautifully shot and allows for the display of serenity during all of the chaos that is shown throughout. One strength that director Gary Ross demonstrates is his ability to demonstrate that there were many layers to the War. Slavery is the central theme and he goes beyond this to show how much race played into the war and its lasting effect that we are still dealing with today. He points out through the film that we had a moment to be a transformative nation, but there were so many people who wanted to the status quo to remain that they prevented any and all social progress that seemed to threaten their perceived social standing. With respect to slavery, Free State gives voices to slaves and Freedmen during the period rather than having them on the periphery or invisible all together. The film offers an authenticity and depth that many films of this period are fearful or reluctant to engage in. There is warfare, there is violence, there is struggle, but the film offers more. It shows humanity. It demonstrates how people recognized what was wrong and took a stand. It also does not play with the history in order to have issues romanticized. It is honest in its application and for some, that will not sit well.