Remember the Alamo

I first learned about the Alamo in earnest from the late John David Lewis. This Objectivist thinker and teacher demonstrated the central facts about the battle with passion, mastery and perfection. I had interviewed Dr. Lewis about the Alamo as a source for an article I was writing to compare Ron Howard’s and John Wayne’s Alamo-themed movies with the truth.

Centograph at the Alamo

This fall, I visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. I’m conducting research for fiction writing. What I experienced during my visit is both inspiring and alarming. The Alamo is a solemn, simple place. It’s surrounded by shops, bland corporate offices and a courthouse and post office. Docents and staff are as dim as I’d had every reason to expect. The tourists are brighter. The front line defense is especially sharp.

The grounds are haunting. I don’t mean this in a superstitious sense. Tragically, some visitors, guides and workers focus on ghost stories to the exclusion of philosophy, knowledge and history. The Alamo haunts in the best sense but only if you know why.

Every American ought to study and know the facts, grasp what happened and visit this sacred site. The experience stirs, affirms and regenerates one’s sense of what matters in life. Every shadow, stone and rustle of leaves evokes the distant yet pressingly relevant memory of what men knew, vowed and held until the end. As John Lewis taught, theirs is a uniquely American defense and they knew it. They were few, they were united and, ultimately, they were unconquered.

These early American heroes, most of whom were Texans, knew why exercising one’s free will to choose, stay and fight for individual liberty is vital.

The meaning of this revered ground lies in the barracks, the church (which had been secularized and converted into a fort with cannons) and at the walls, where the men defended themselves and took refuge against a tyrant who sought to dictate their lives. I found myself feeling free to linger, stroll and reflect. At every plaque, statue and memorial, at each historical demonstration, monument and cannon, I was at liberty to remember details of what they’ve done. The battle for the Alamo made America more viable as a republic.

In visiting here, I draw renewed strength, resolve and fortitude. I know that I, too, face the fundamental choice to summon these qualities in America’s darkest hours to come. Like Boston’s Tea Party insurgents on this date in 1773 and the patriots at Concord and Lexington and Black Tuesday’s passengers on United Airlines flight 93, the choice to live free or die — “VICTORY OR DEATH”, as William Travis wrote at the Alamo — is mine to make.

I found the one at the Alamo who understands this. This individual is not a cashier; the clerk who sold my ticket is uninformed about the place’s history. The person is not a guide; the guide is an officious, dogmatic and duty-bound dolt. The one is not among other Alamo staff, whom I found to be cynical, mindless and blank. The one is a police officer. In an effort to protect the innocent, to paraphrase the old Dragnet broadcast, I won’t divulge the identity or the exact job.

That the Alamo police officer alone thinks, acts and speaks with knowledge, passion and reverence shows that, as long as there is one who stands to know, understand and remember the Alamo, the Alamo can be be saved and left to inspire “all Americans in the world.”

Even if you think it’s too soon.

Movie Review: A Hidden Life

At two hours and 45 minutes, A Hidden Life ought to have been an unforgettable epic given its topic, one man’s refusal to sanction Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, instead, writer and director Terrence Malick’s movie suffers from too many problems. Like Malick’s overly romanticized 1978 farm drama, Days of Heaven, the distinctly cinematic director takes an approach that compartmentalizes the leading couple to the point of detachment. They’re neither sufficiently detailed and realistic to be plausible on the film’s terms nor romantic enough to be as noble as Malick apparently intends.

It takes a while to realize that A Hidden Life isn’t as profound as Malick evidently must’ve thought it could, should or would be. My first clue was the audio introduction, which precedes the opening pictures. The sounds of wind, insects and nature envelop the audience. This takes the audience into the setting, which is Austria’s mountain valley farms in 1939. A narrator comes next, speaking in the past tense beginning with an admission of error as black and white footage of the National Socialist acceptance and spread over Germany sweeps over the screen very effectively, demonstrating more or less that the whole of Germany knowingly and enthusiastically accepted the Nazi philosophy.

To anyone who’s seen the trailer or knows history, the quaint Austrian farming village and its young romantic couple (August Diehl and Valerie Pachner) clearly haven’t much of a chance. As in Days of Heaven, Malick lets the couple frolic in the fields, which is mostly what they do and for a long, long time. They’re soon married, with a few kids appearing at an early point, always with the Nazi threat looming but never in clear and explicit terms. By the time husband Franz (Diehl) is called upon to enlist in the Army and swear an oath to the Nazi dictator, which he declines to do, neither he nor anyone in town has really mentioned, let alone discussed, the Nazis; men are off to train, fight and defend Nazis. Women, children and old men are left alone to toil in the fields.

Those left behind still laugh, play, raise pigs and, amid neatly interspersed pictures of Nazis, life goes on. Only Franz objects to the takeover of Austria by dictatorship. That he does so without much of a reason is treated as unexceptional. His opposition is never really named and identified. It’s just something he does that’s regarded by villagers as unusual, then as unpatriotic and by loved ones as unusual, then inconvenient. The Nazi invasion comes without much impact other than the men being drafted and conscripted into military service. Jews never merit mention in A Hidden Life, remarkably. Every aspect of Nazi Austria just sort of happens without much rancor, notice or fuss.

Perhaps this is Malick’s point. But the lack of any exposition of the origin or progression of Franz’s convictions certainly makes more glaring that the leading man never articulates his opposition, which forms the basis for the entire film. The vacuum gets filled, slowly but surely, with faith and religion.

A Hidden Life depicts Austria as lovely and enchanting, with its fields, hills and simple people as God’s country and people, contaminated by the Nazi invaders through very little fault of their own. When Franz asks his “dear wife … what’s happened to our country?” I couldn’t help wondering why it took him so long to ask himself the same question. I also wondered why he and his wife never ask in the present, not the past, tense. That one so resolute in refusal does not ask “what’s happening?” before asking “what’s happened?” strikes me as impossible or unlikely.

As Franz pays the price for a refusal to submit, asking his God-fearing wife to “pray for me” when he’s jailed as she takes comfort in the land’s “wind, wheat and sky”, Nazis try to reason with him to cease his stubborn refusal to renounce his opposition. One of his jailers promises him that he can go free.

“But I am free,” he replies in what could’ve been A Hidden Life’s best line. Malick expects the audience to intrinsically grasp why. Franz’s refusal is less a principled stand than the refusal to put faith in the state above his faith in God, though even this is portrayed as too abstract. Heaven’s light shines upon him, while his long-suffering wife, working the farm and raising her kids with her sister and mother-in-law and being shunned by pro-Nazi villagers, surrounds herself with crucifixes, church attendance, a priest, prayer and pictures of Jesus Christ. For their part, the children are seen and not heard, playing and smiling as if largely and blissfully ignorant of their poverty, deprivation and absent father.

Compounding these problems are the languages of A Hidden Life, which switch from foreign to English in key scenes and transitions. Like its enticing advertisement, and most of the movies Malick makes, A Hidden Life looks like it contains great filmmaking, holding the promise of deliverance and adding up to a momentous epic. Yet, while it thankfully doesn’t sugarcoat the true life based consequences of opposing Nazis, it is too satisfied to take itself on faith.


Mr. Rogers, Rand, Carnegie and Pittsburgh

Read my article “Bridging Ayn Rand and Pittsburgh” in the winter edition of Pittsburgh Quarterly, currently on sale at certain newsstands in the city of bridges. I bought a copy at a downtown Pittsburgh shop during a recent visit over Thanksgiving (more on the trip below). It’s an account, and I think perhaps the first in publication, of the philosopher who described herself as a radical for capitalism and what contends as the foremost city of the Industrial Revolution. I pitched a few ideas to my editor and publisher and this is the byproduct of the one he thought best serves the magazine’s readers.

In the piece, which may become available online, I focus on the Forties, when Rand wrote her observations of Pittsburgh in her journal, corresponded with an admiring book critic for a Pittsburgh newspaper and prepared for the movie adaptation of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. All of these tie into each other and relate to an interesting comment by Objectivist scholar Greg Salmieri, whom I interviewed for the article. Dr. Salmieri, who’s editing the University of Pittsburgh Press series of books studying Rand’s philosophy, gives his opinions on Rand’s ideas and how they’ve been interpreted within the context of today’s false left-right political dichotomy.

I am delighted that publication of the first article about Rand and my hometown coincides with the first reprinting of my article about Andrew Carnegie in Capitalism Magazine (read it here). Carnegie is one of my first heroes. I became fascinated with him as a boy. As with Ayn Rand, the more I learn and know about this man, the more I admire him. I wrote this piece several years ago as a sidebar to an article I’d been asked to write for a magazine.

Having just visited the city of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and, yes, Carnegie Hall (not the one portrayed in Green Book), I can happily say that I think you’ll find this profile of Andrew Carnegie worth reading. I won’t be surprised if you discover that you’ve learned something new and admirable, even exciting, about this amazing man, whose birthday I celebrated while I was in Pittsburgh.

One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is that its residents have real awareness, knowledge and appreciation, even admiration, for capitalists and captains of industry. Wherever I went on Carnegie’s birthday while visiting Pittsburgh, everyone with whom I discussed the man was instantly interested, engaged and aware of his legacy, his stature, his greatness. I’ve written about Pittsburgh on this blog several times, and will write more soon about this year’s Thanksgiving trip, but I find that I am often surprised by this city’s unique ability to wall off the world’s spreading religion of hatred of moneymaking. There’s real reverence for it here, however unpolished or weary it may be. The city of steel, in this sense, can spark like that.

This is one reason it was wonderful to see the new movie about Pittsburgh’s pioneering child development host, Mr. Rogers, with my family in Pittsburgh. It’s a warm, thought-provoking film that holds your interest as an individual, challenging you to introspect, engaging you with silence, not screaming, blaring, sensory-driven assault. Yet it comes together as a whole, respecting the uniqueness of each individual and his choices, even when those choices deviate from traditional notions of family, holidays and what constitutes a proper gathering. See A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers by yourself, alone and in solitude or with a friend. Or with your chosen family as I did. Read my movie review on the cover of the New Romanticist here.

Look for more posts — on its theater, culture, hospitality, downtown and sports — about this fall’s trip to Pittsburgh soon.


TV Review: Chernobyl (HBO)

Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl, directed by Johan Renck, who’s known for music videos, and starring the ubiquitous and talented Stellan Skarsgård (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mamma Mia!, Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, Cinderella, Thor) dramatizes the collapse of Soviet Russia.

Buy the Miniseries

As gray, bleak and lifeless as a honest series about socialism and its more consistent altruist-collectivist application, Communism, in practice must be, the five-part miniseries for AT&T-owned Home Box Office (HBO) stands out for depicting bureaucracy as a deathtrap. Chernobyl taps the Soviet and Russian sense of life, which is essentially anti-life.

But it does so strictly and only in minuscule measure. Upon a young technology co-worker’s recommendation, I bought and watched this series. I find Chernobyl’s excellent acting, visual and production values completely immersive and engrossing. You probably will, too. It’s striking for both its implicit and explicit honesty about socialism. This is so true that it is tempting to evaluate HBO’s series as a breakthrough.

Chernobyl is not quite that good. Socialism is spreading in the United States as a dishonest socialist presidential candidate exploits America’s workers’ fears into believing that a wealthy, old New Englander can loot the wealthy and spread the loot to give everyone clean air, good medicine and a college education. So, it’s refreshing to watch and reassuring to know that a major miniseries counters the fraudulent pseudo-curmedgeon with a dramatization of the truth that socialism, like radiation poisoning, destroys the individual and, left untended, kills everyone.

If you know about the spring 1986 nuclear disaster in Communist Russia — the only major nuclear meltdown in history  then you’ll enjoy Chernobyl more. If you don’t, as my young colleague did not, you may be inclined to think that the truth-based Chernobyl’s a work of pure fiction. This is especially so if you’ve come of age post-Earth Day. If so, you’re part of generations that’ve been subjected to nearly 50 years of relentless environmentalist propaganda falsely blaming the wealthy, business, capitalism, America and industry for mass death, disease, pollution and natural disaster.

With key roles in strong performances, Chernobyl shows otherwise. The scientists whose knowledge under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is powerless, to invert the meaning of Francis Bacon’s famous quote, try in vain to contain, alleviate and convey the damage after a nuclear plant explosion caused by incompetence, bureaucracy and faith in the welfare state. Emily Watson (War Horse, Angela’s Ashes, Anna Karenina) and Jared Harris (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Notorious Bettie Page, General Ulysses Grant in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln) excel in these roles. There’s also a fireman and his wife, various Communist Party thugs, from idiotic plant chiefs to security goons, and Skarsgård as a top Communist Party thug.

As is evident everyday in Hong Kong, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and China, any one who’s a member of the Communist Party is what amounts to a thug, so I’m going with that term because it is true. And part of the problem with Chernobyl, as shocking as this may sound to fans and admirers of Chernobyl, is that Chernobyl doesn’t fully account for this fact.

In ways large and small, the series shows what it means to be a Communist or socialist, often with precise and profound attention to detail. The nuclear power plant known as Chernobyl was, in fact, the Vladimir I. (for Ilyitch) Lenin nuclear power plant. As if to remind the audience that the horror movie-like story of Chernobyl begins with the monster who promoted self-sacrifice and socialism, Lenin’s portrait, depicting the evil philosopher whose ideas made possible the bloodiest dictatorship on earth, looms over every episode of Chernobyl.

But those who mindlessly carry out his mission of monstrosity don’t get called out. Certainly, they get implicated, and this includes, again, refreshingly, the chief Communist of the Eighties, the dreadfully overpraised New Left hero, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who appears in Chernobyl in key scenes marking the dictatorship’s errant, slow, delayed, deliberate and utterly horrifying response to the nuclear meltdown. Gorbachev, darling of the left, the press and everyone in the West, including to some degree unfortunately Thatcher, during and after the collapse of Soviet Communism, was a Communist. To his credit, he noticed that Communism was collapsing under his dictatorship. But Gorbachev was a Communist dictator. Like a janitor who’s the only one left in the building to mop up the mess of a Department of Water and Power system failure, Gorbachev merely managed the end of a dictatorship. Chernobyl shows this, demonstrating that Gorbachev was merely more calculating and publicity-savvy. That this Communist dictator knew he’d be better regarded by avoiding total loss of life, stature and decency is rightly regarded as secondary.

Chernobyl does not put Gorbachev or any of the Soviet Communists in their place, however. For its taut drama, suspense and spot-on portrayal of the insidious philosophical and existential poisoning of an entire country, Chernobyl not only doesn’t get around to rendering moral judgment of the union of concerned scientists and Soviet socialists — it barely scratches the surface of Soviet mass murder, coming closest in a scene with a woman milking a cow — Chernobyl makes the dictatorship’s moral premise, altruism — the idea that the individual exists to serve Others — a source of heroism.

In dramatizing Soviet divers, miners and Lenin plant workers, and those who love them, to the extent it is possible to love someone while living under a dictatorship, Chernobyl holds sacrifice as the moral ideal, leaving the Chernobyl disaster’s — and Soviet Russia’s— cause perfectly in place. Not a single scene implicates altruism or self-sacrifice as the toxin that poisons the plant and the country. Chernobyl unfolds with adherence to the cold, miserable and vacant representational recreation of Soviet Ukraine and, especially, Moscow. Its soldiers, KGB agents, committee members, lines, housing projects, cars, streets and red star-emblazoned machines reek of an entire population of humans steeped in ignorance, despair and total misery. Mazin’s series demonstrates for the thinking viewer what, how and why socialism makes everyone rotten, corrupt and depraved. This is especially true in an unnerving subplot with Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, Life’s a Breeze, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as an innocent soldier who, with two comrades, is assigned to terminate post-disaster contaminated animals and pets in evacuated zones.

Chernobyl can’t come close to fully dramatizing the horror of Soviet Russia. The mass death, including the long, drawn-out, slow, waiting-in-line-to die-slowly-by-radiation-poisoning, which is the perfect metaphor for Soviet Russia, of this socialist state is impossible to fully capture. Tens of millions were slaughtered. The makers of Chernobyl seem to grasp this on some level, with end titles that admit that no one knows how many died from the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Whatever its flaws, this series, which is best seen as an intellectual, fact-based horror miniseries, not as a deeply contemplative TV program, merits serious attention. In an era in which voters in the greatest nation on earth may be on the verge of electing a socialist president who chose not just to visit but to honeymoon and sanction Communist Russia after the Vladimir Lenin nuclear meltdown, Chernobyl rumbles and hums with fact-based foreboding of the horrifying past as chilling prologue.


Movie Review: Midway (2019)

I enjoyed this week’s top movie at the box office, Midway. Fortunately, in this case (because I think advance knowledge enhances, rather than diminishes, the cinematic experience), I didn’t know much about this movie in advance. 

When I saw that Midway is directed by Roland Emmerich, a German-born moviemaker whose Godzilla (1998), Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow are among the most bombastic movies I’ve seen, I felt a cringe, though because I’d forgotten his forgettable films, I didn’t credit the cause. When I realized who he is, and learned that he also directed the unnecessarily bloody martyr-themed The Patriot, I cringed again. And, frankly, Midway begins as a loud, mammoth-scale behemoth that vibrates and shudders the audience in their seats.

Except for a few significant problems, Midway gets better fast and becomes an absorbing, old-fashioned American war movie. With one crucial omission, each plot point in the structure is properly planned, earned and executed, starting with the Japanese sneak attack on America (Japan initiated the use of force against America at Pearl Harbor, slaughtering thousands of Americans).

An innocent young American atheist or secularist sailor questioning a church service in progress on the deck of the USS Arizona swiftly finds himself fighting for life with his superior while “the Japs” (as the enemy were called in World War 2, a fact which is not treated with apology) bomb and gun down Americans everywhere in Honolulu. It’s a massacre. 

This is the predicate for President Roosevelt’s stirring speech to rally the young nation to war, which some believe there’s evidence he knew about in advance. Then, comes a good exposition, which is extremely rare in Hollywood, with a string of leading male characters as top Naval brass, pilots and sailors, wives and Japanese sailors.

The timeline moves steadily and not too fast. This means that, for the first time in a major Hollywood movie in decades, the men who fought the war, who, appropriately for the picture’s Veterans Day weekend release, are both based on real sailors, pilots and officers and portrayed largely without historical revisionism, come off as real, developed, admirable characters. Midway in this sense puts the audience on the edge of their seats. Everyone in the theater, including those I suspect are real American vets, pilots, soldiers and sailors and their children and wives, was very invested in the characters and story.

The battle of Midway cannot be overestimated in turning the war in the Pacific toward the Americans and Midway depicts this hard-fought, deadly, epic battle with top production values. It doesn’t look fake like the Marvel movies. It looks more realistic. Whether Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards…) is ruminating about enemy movements at sea, musicians are pressed into service as codebreakers listening to Zenith radios or the only intelligence officer (Patrick Wilson, Angels in America) to forewarn about the Japs’ attack is nearly wrecked with tension and anxiety about the accuracy of his projections, Midway always keeps the action rooted in the drama of men’s lives at stake.

Screenwriter Wes Tooke gets certain details, such as America’s minisule and poorly prepared and equipped navy right. By the time the battle gets underway, with toe-tingling dive bombing and dogfighting and impossible aeronautic climbs defying the Navy pilots’ biological needs, every character, from Bruno the aircraft carrier crewman (Nick Jonas) to an arrogant American named Best (Ed Skrein, Deadpool) and Mrs. Best (Mandy Moore, This Is Us), is fully enlisted in the dramatic action. Look for Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose) as an aircraft carrier commander who makes a pivotal judgment, Darren Criss (The Assassination of Gianni Versace) as a pilot and Etsushi Toyokawa as Yamamoto (who said after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that Imperial Japan had “awakened a sleeping giant”). Others include Luke Evans as a naval leader and others you may recognize as tailgunners, war widows and coders. Aaron Eckhart (Sully) appears as Jimmy Doolittle, who dared to bomb Tokyo when America desperately needed him to bomb Japan and ran out of fuel with his crewmen, crashed in enemy territory and tried to escape the bastards. Midway is an American epic that accounts for almost every important aspect of the Pacific theater.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions. While this may be Roland Emmerich’s best movie since Stargate (1994) and he does capture the sense of shock that the Japanese experienced at the depth and magnitude of American resilience and resolve, the director and writer fail to mention or refer to Douglas MacArthur, which strikes me as a key oversight. Worse, they evade the central, driving tenet of Japan’s dominant religion, Shintoism: self-sacrifice. A single scene of a kamikaze diving into an American ship is matched by an American pilot doing the same to a Japanese ship and a scene actually suggests that the Japanese war command discouraged sacrifice.

The opposite is true. The whole country, culture and deeply held belief system of Japan, down to every man, woman and child, was the total moral duty to sacrifice for the sake of one’s race, religion and state; with the emperor and empire being both state and religion. Also, the movie’s apparently been made with assistance from some shell branch of Communist China, so scenes in Japanese-occupied China emphasize Chinese suffering to the detriment of the Doolittle raid subplot.

Midway does, however, depict Japan’s barbarism which is absolutely crucial to any movie about World War 2’s Pacific theater. Also, the conflict between Japanese duty versus American desire to live is made clear. Though I would not have dedicated a war-themed movie to those who fought and died from both countries, some, especially Americans who fought, might see this as a magnanimous gesture.

In any case, Midway earns its excitement and does mostly right by the brave Americans who broke the code, planned, out-thought, outfought and crushed the enemy against all reasonable expectations and those who loved them. The best performances belong to Skrein as Best, Wilson, black-haired Moore struggling to remain as brave and composed as her husband, Quaid, Criss and, Nick Jonas in an important role showing that he’s a natural actor.

Everyone on cast and crew does good work on Midway, however. It’s a thrilling, intense two hours about the victory that stopped Japan from bombing California and invading the United States — the empire had devised plans to march to Chicago — buying America time to crush the enemy without equivocation and win the war. Which, thanks to the Americans of Midway, we did.

Movie Review: Harriet

Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons (Black Nativity, Eve’s Bayou) with screenwriting and story credit to Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans), Harriet is the first major depiction of Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman. This is a labor of love from Lemmons, so audiences should expect music, religion and thoughtful, striking filmmaking.

Stormy skies set the tone, which comes over Bucktown, Maryland in 1849. The pre-Civil War drama gets moving into the gospel, rhythm and blues of slave life with an introduction to the title character, portrayed by Cynthia Erivo, who’s perfect as the runaway slave who became an American heroine. Soon thereafter comes an appearance by Lemmons’ husband, Vondie Curtis-Hall, as a preacher. He’s outstanding (as usual) if underused. 

Harriet is not flawless. There’s a wealth of material to assimilate here. Lemmons does an amazing job of pulling it together. My thought is that she probably needs to get more practice and make more movies.

But her Harriet is a triumph. This is because she weaves various known facts about Tubman, including her mysticism, faith in God and illiteracy, certain liberties and three major arcs of neatly integrated pieces of somber, poetic music that hold, fold and seal like flaps of envelopes the painful lessons of the American South’s enslavement of humans. Harriet is prayerfully, deeply musical in this sense. It’s moving and haunting. This is as it must be.

That, how and why the heroine — and Harriet Tubman’s portrayed as a heroine, not some sort of mindless anime-like automaton programmed to wisecrack like one of those female comics characters — chooses to become herself is the picture’s theme. Accordingly, her relationship with her slavemaster’s son, Gideon, portrayed by Joe Alwyn (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) as aimless and godless, takes interesting turns.

After the first of many premonitions forecasts her breaking free, the slave woman runs away. She encounters the first of many honorable men and women — white and black — who seek to help her escape to reclaim her freedom. One of them takes the terrified young fugitive in his hands and instructs her: “Fear is your enemy”. As the movie’s tagline indicates, she soon faces and names her fundamental choice to be free or die.

Pennsylvania’s sun-kissed landscape, where she soon discovers the Anti-Slavery Society in the city which was America’s first capital, Philadelphia, shows this driven, hardened former slave the first glimpses of her remarkable future. Yet another stranger in the street takes kindly to her and, before rendering another act of charity, offers advice that, here in the North, she ought to “walk like you’ve a right to …” Despite post-traumatic flashbacks, she does, finding a black man working a printing press and her own, new way in the free part of the country.

One of the film’s most intelligent aspects (besides an insistent depiction of human goodness) is the portrayal of the vast, serious band of political activists known as abolitionists. They were a heroic, though religious, band of men and women who were steadfast in their dedication to abolish slavery. Without them, Harriet Tubman’s heroism, which according to this movie included her liberating over 800 slaves, most in the military battle she led against the Confederacy during the Civil War, would not have been possible.

One of them is a lovely, dignified woman named Marie (Janelle Monae; Moonlight, Hidden Figures) who coaches, teaches and aids Harriet Tubman including in the virtue of the Constitution’s Second Amendment. This is but one of many moving parts in this jaw-dropping story of the individual’s defiance against the state.

Another is the notion of slaves as a status symbol. This fuels and is fueled by the mythology born out of Harriet Tubman’s courageous and brave incursions down South to rescue slaves. Because she makes the dangerous infiltrations in costume, even dressing as a man, she somehow becomes known as Moses. There’s more, as the woman known as Moses faces the abrupt and deadly aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Act, the fact that not every slave wants to do what it takes to be free and a young black man known as Walter (Henry Hunter Hall, stealing every scene) who catches runaway slaves.

Harriet’s fidelity to history is best left to be examined by historians but, based on what I do know about this liberator, one of my earliest heroes in life, the movie dramatizes the essence of her life. A scene in which one who’s seeking to pass as white in drag is questionable at best and Gideon borders on a supervillain though Alwyn’s excellent acting helps.

Harriet is an inspiring dramatization when we need it most of one individual who wanted to be free — an illiterate woman who, as depicted here, correctly captured the smallness of the enemy by rightly denouncing the Confederacy as a wicked, lost cause — and rose to moral righteousness in pursuit of her own happiness.

Harriet Tubman, like Patrick Henry, demanded the right to choose “liberty or death”. Harriet, in wrenching detail and powerful drama, shows that she who chooses to wade in the water toward the properly promised land lives in liberty and her own glory here on earth.