A few important reasons to put this feminist Western on your must-see movie list
The Keeping Room is different. It’s a war movie that focuses not on the soldiers, but on the women left behind. It’s a Civil War story that glorifies no side, and casts two Union soldiers as the bad guys. It’s a Western, a thriller, that is both nail-bitingly suspenseful and firmly feminist.
Written by Julia Hart (her first film), the story of The Keeping Room revolves around sisters Augusta and Louise (Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld) and their slave Mad (Muna Otaru). The three women are the sole remaining occupants of a southern plantation, left behind after the men of the house go to fight in the war. As the structure of their society breaks down, the women begin to form their own — loving one another as family despite race, and defending themselves from encroaching Union soldiers, two in particular who we learn are capable of both rape and murder (and are, yes, fast approaching).
The film is gritty and dark and hard, but it is also empowering. It displays a 19th century version of girl power, which I think we can all agree is not shown often enough. It also lets the women be strong, brave, very real heroines who, quite simply, are making do just fine without the men. Here are just a few reasons why this new feminist war flick should be on your must-see list.
It’s not just a war movie; it’s a war movie about the women.
We’ve likely all seen war movies, but war movies told from the female vantage point are rare. Westerns told from the female perspective? Even more so. “It was pretty exciting to pick up this script that read like a Western thriller, but with three girls at the center of it,” Brit Marling, who plays Augusta, told HelloGiggles. “The idea of getting to be in a movie where you’re riding horses, and shooting guns, and chopping wood, and being like an action hero but a very down to earth one, and getting to do all of it an period costume dress? It just seemed totally amazing to me.” We agree.
The movie knows that tears do not make a woman any less strong.
“I loved the idea of getting to show that a strong woman is actually a woman not afraid to show her emotions, and not afraid to be vulnerable, and not afraid to break down and cry, and not afraid to be afraid,” screenwriter Julia Hart told HelloGiggles. “I think that ultimately at the end of the day what makes a real strong woman, is a woman who can be all the different sides of what it means to be a woman . . . and not some 2-dimensional representation of a fantasy of what a strong woman is.”
It shows sisterhood overcoming race.
Consider the fact that this film takes place during the Civil War, and then consider the fact that it’s about three women (two white and one black) who are bonded together like a family. The film shows a dynamic we haven’t often seen, and creates a story of how war changes things. As Brit Marling put it, “You see just in their relationship the breakdown of the institution of slavery.”
Hart also commented on that during her conversation with HelloGiggles, “I wondered a lot about what would happen when the societal structure that these women grew up in dissolved. And my answer to that was that they would become a family.”
The women are not saved by men, they’re saved by one another.
Not to give too much away here, but the film does involve an attempted rape. When writing the script Hart was committed to making sure that narrative was defined by the women. “I had never seen a sexual assault revenge story where a woman rescues another woman,” she said. “That was really important to me … that the women not only rescue themselves, but rescue eachother.”
The film was written by a woman, and that woman used to write for HelloGiggles!
“I used to write for HelloGiggles,” Hart reminded us. “Like, right when it first started. I was one of the first writers and I was a high school English teacher and I wrote about things related to school and reading lists.” You can check out Hart’s HG reading lists, and her writing (like her, “Open Letter to Moms (Especially Mine)”). And you can check out her newer stuff, by going to see The Keeping Room.
The Keeping Room is in theaters now.
[Images via Drafthouse Films]