Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Message of "The Iron Lady"

I've not yet seen The Iron Lady, the new film about the life of Margaret Thatcher, but Virginia Postrel has and in it she detects what for her is an annoying moral, a moral which I think is a commonplace:
Contrary to the critics, framing Thatcher’s story with her current dementia, which her daughter has written about, is not intrinsically disrespectful. Nor does it necessarily undercut her accomplishments. 
The problem, rather, is that grafted on to what could be an affecting story of greatness and decline is an invidious, and gratuitous, moral. Call it the Gospel According to Anna Quindlen, the writer and columnist who enshrined its maxims in a commencement speech she wrote in 1999 and eventually turned into the best-selling book “A Short Guide to a Happy Life.” “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office,” she instructed. “Don’t ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: ‘If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.’” 
The film presents Thatcher as just such a rat -- a woman who too zealously pursued public achievement and spent way too much time at the office. Rather than universal loss, the loneliness of her old age represents a kind of karmic payback for her hubris in seeking to leave something more to history than her genes. 
...No wonder she wound up lonely and demented. The Iron Lady was just out for herself, a self-centered rat who missed the important things in life. At least that’s what a viewer who knew only the movie might suppose.
While Postrel ends her review by focusing on its feminist (or anti-feminist?) implications, I think she was more on the mark with where she began.

That we all, perhaps most especially women, have to make choices in our otherwise circumscribed  lives, and that those choices have consequences, some good, some not so good, that involve paying costs, some quite dear, and that we must be prepared to live, and die, with those consequences and costs is an abiding and inescapable truth.  It is for that reason also, as I say, a commonplace moral.  I don't fault Hollywood for tackling, once again, this tragic aspect of life.

My issue with this film, at least from what I can gather without actually seeing it, simply is that I cannot imagine Hollywood making a similar point in such a powerful and compelling a fashion about any woman who happened to be a liberal icon.

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