Frozen River thaws expectations on the silver screen

Frozen River Courtney Hunt (Cohen Media Group)4 StarsA single gunshot is heard, and within seconds it is revealed that the weapon is in fact in the hands of a desperate Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a struggling lower-class mother in “Frozen River.” This year’s Sundance winner (written and directed by Courtney Hunt) is set in Messina, New York. Talk about misfortune: Eddy’s husband has just left her with no money, and two boys to feed. Shortly thereafter, she discovers that her husband’s abandoned car was stolen by Lila (Misty Upham), a young Mohawk woman. Eddy follows Lila, who hides in her trailer as she refuses to give the car back. So Eddy resorts to what she knows best, commanding the phallus of the law – her gun. Lila tosses the keys to Eddy, and reveals that she stole the car to help a friend smuggle drugs and immigrants over the Canadian border. Realizing that this is a good fast-cash opportunity, Eddy agrees to go in on it with Lila. Lila also needs the money; she has a child that has been kidnapped by her mother-in-law. They cross over the border in the form of a river that has been frozen over in black ice. This river, which does not symbolize a border for the Mohawks, ultimately puts the law into question. Eddy’s desperation forces her to think outside of that which she knows, a prejudiced white legal system in a consumer-driven capitalist economy. She trades this law for the Mohawk law, one where spirits, not wheels, guide them across the ice. Various shots of the river convey its immense expanse, symbolizing an ambiguous line of the law, and in contrast, the uncontrolled, open-mindedness of Eddy to embrace different customs. But the tables turn — Eddy isn’t trusted on Mohawk territory. Eddy takes her gun with her wherever she goes. It is her means to power and control. It is a clutch used to reveal her desperation. It seems to be Hunt’s way of expressing the white man’s fear of all that is different. This evokes the crisis of the audience member. With whom do we sympathize, and is it okay to sympathize with Eddy? As much as the weapon symbolizes her prejudice, it is also used as a link to her humanity. She ends up offering the gun to Lila, who uses it to steal her child back – it serves as a peace offering of an ironic disposition. While the gun mends the relationship between the two women, it is, nonetheless, a weapon. While the film serves as a realistic look at a cultural collision, it does so in the form of subtle and de-glamorized storytelling. It is expressed in the innate humanity of the characters, which manifests itself in the blurred line between right and wrong, and the obscurity of the borderline. While the new law Eddy is exposed to serves to support her sons’ desires, it also encourages a new compassion in Lila, perhaps a gift of another sort. This dichotomy of the two systems of law governing the same land produces a tension in the characters that is portrayed with grit and realism. We see every emotion in Eddy, no matter how hard she feigns strength in the presence of her kids. Hunt feeds us with an example of what the white American psyche faces when forced to collide with a forgotten and ignored past.