Felicity Jones shines as the trail-blazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the film On the Basis of Sex.
Felicity Jones shines as the trail-blazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the film On the Basis of Sex.

'On the Basis of Sex' is a stirring and immersive film

By ORIELLE BERRY Time of article published Jan 30, 2019

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Revered as a national hero and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was appointed as associate justice of the US Supreme Court in 1993 by president Bill Clinton - becoming then the second woman justice of four to be confirmed to the court.

"On the Basis of Sex," a stirring and immersive film, tracks her rise to this position, the landmark case which marked her as a lawyer who stood up against sex discrimination and her struggle for equal rights.

Her nephew Daniel Stiepleman penned the script for the film - a clever adaptation in which his aunt offered accounts, corrections and memoirs to which he added.

The film opens with Ginsburg as a first-year student at Harvard Law School in the 1950s, in a class dominated by young men with nine women students.

We see the almost withering treatment she receives from professors and lecturers, and the film makes the most of focusing on how askance it was regarded for women to be capable of doing anything besides home making.

This is horribly akin to the blinkered Trump era - and one is reminded of this throughout the film as Ginsburg takes up the cudgels.

Martin, Ruth’s husband, is superbly evoked by the taller Armie Hammer to her diminutive form. As a second-year student he’s diagnosed with cancer and, true to her feisty form, she attends both her classes and his, taking notes and transcribing lectures while caring for Martin and their infant daughter Jane.

Two years down the line, Martin, his cancer in remission, is taken on by a New York law company. Ruth transfers to Columbia and even after completing her degree as top graduate, cannot find a position. Small wonder - not one firm - despite her entreaties and superb track record - wants to hire a woman. It’s just not “done”. She accepts a job that effectively defines her future as a professor at Rutgers Law School, where she enlightens others on the law and sex discrimination.

It’s in 1970 that Martin shows Ruth a tax law case that is to become a landmark example. Charles Moritz, from Denver is forced to hire a nurse to help him care for his ageing mother so he can continue his work. He’s denied a tax deduction for the nursing care because Section 214 of the Internal Revenue Code limits this to “a woman, a widower or divorcee, or a husband whose wife is incapacitated or institutionalised”. The court rules that Moritz, unmarried, does not qualify for the deduction. Ruth views the case as an opportunity to challenge the multiple laws in place that assume that men will work to provide for the family. Their wives are the stay-at-home spouses.

In strong contrast to the reality of the day, the film portrays a relationship between her and her husband that is so vibrant and so equal - husband and wife productively feeding off the other that is a joy to watch.

Felicity Jones shines as the trail-blazing Ginsburg in so many sequences.

In the run-up to the case - egged on by her daughter (played as a more radical feminist Cailee Spaeny - she ponders that if she can set a precedent ruling that a man was unfairly discriminated against on the basis of sex, that could be cited in other similar cases challenging similar laws against women.

The case which potentially could have been a drawn-out scene is dealt with pertinently and vividly etched.

Some critics are already talking about this as an unlikely Oscar contender.

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