Making the Grades
Life in London during the 1960s is a dark and troubled time for Ginger (Elle Fanning) and her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert). The radio buzzes with threats of a nuclear holocaust and the ensuing end of the world. Afraid that every day may be her last, Ginger, an aspiring poet, becomes obsessed with banning the bomb, marching in protest rallies and joining a youth group opposed to war.
But the world scene isn’t the only thing teetering on the brink of destruction in this challenging movie. At home, war of a different kind wages and her family implodes. Her father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a freethinking writer with thin morals, shamelessly spends time with his young and beautiful students. He scoffs at religion, belittles his daughter’s curiosity about God, and prods her to embrace his attitude that detests any sort of moral obligation, familial responsibility or social accountability. As Ginger’s mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) bemoans her role as wife, mother and homemaker, the married couple’s arguments and palpable disdain for one another escalate and cloud every family interaction.
Meanwhile Ginger and Rosa distance themselves from their homes, wandering the dark streets of London into the wee hours of the morning, smoking, drinking and in Rosa’s case, engaging in sex on a dirty city sidewalk.
Ginger and Rosa is a difficult film to watch on many levels. From the opening scenes, a sense of foreboding permeates the script particularly when Roland lustily peers at Rosa in the car’s rearview mirror. After being abandoned by her father, Rosa seeks male acceptance and love in any form she can get it—even if it means becoming a mere sexual object. Mature themes of infidelity, child sexual abuse and teen substance abuse are also prevalent in the script along with two strong sexual expletives and a smattering of profanities. Equally unsettling is watching the naïve and gentle Ginger face problems and worries unfitting for her tender years.
With no anchor at home, Ginger’s only emotional caregivers come in the form of her godfathers, Mark One and Mark Two (Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt) and their radical friend May Bella (Annette Bening). But even their attention is only a substitute for the family affection she wants in a world spiraling out of control.
While the theme and content of this film, written and directed by Sally Potter, makes this movie appropriate for only the oldest of teens, this well-made production offers strong performances by its young cast members, Fanning and Englert, who both bring a sense of pathos and disquiet to their characters.
And like Charles Dickens’ English character, Mrs. Jellyby, who is more interested in saving the children of Africa than caring for her own family, Ginger’s mom and dad forsake their parental responsibilities in favor of their own pains and passions. But leaving their daughter to fare for herself in a world that is spiraling out of control globally and personally comes at a high cost to the young girl whose innocence and childhood are lost far too soon.
Limited Theatrical Release: 31 August 2012
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Ginger and Rosa.
Ginger’s innocence is set side by side against her sense of responsibility for saving the entire world. How is her naivety and youth portrayed? What events contribute to her loss of innocence? Which characters worry about global issues and which are more concerned with personal matters? Is anybody actively trying to solve the problems at home? What responsibility, if any, do parents have to help protect their offspring’s childhood?
Roland espouses the idea of autonomous thought and conscientious objection. How does he use that as an excuse to avoid all responsibility in his marriage, his role as a father, his social behavior and his sexual conquests? Do you agree with his comment about surrendering to the siren call of true love or does it sound like another excuse for his bad behavior? How long do you think his relationships with his young lovers will last?
Why do Mark and Mark encourage Ginger to be a girl for a little while longer instead of worrying about adult problems? Does her home situation allow her to do that? What role do her godfathers play in her life?
Learn more about the societal pressures of the early 1960 here: