“Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?” So asked Amelia Earhart in an era when
women who charted their own lives were usually labeled eccentric or aggressive.
They were seen to walk beyond the bounds that had been laid down for them by the
collective. Earhart not only jumped the barriers, but for following her
genuinely impossible dream, she became the stylish, reserved heroine of women of
the 1930s. The film misses her real contribution to women.
Mira Nair’s movie “Amelia” has opened to lukewarm reviews. It’s getting a bum rap. It is, without question, a glossy Hollywood movie but it also being judged too much by contemporary standards, perhaps by young movie critics and filmmakers who don’t understand the first thing about the state of women, communication, or aeroplanes in 1937.
Consider this: In June of that year, when Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan took off on their journey around the world, communication by telephone and radio was in its infancy. Beyond Morse code and temperamental voice radio, navigational aids in the air were nearly non-existent. To get to the point where she could wheedle a Lockheed Electra from her patron and husband, publisher G.P. Putnam, Earhart simply kept flying – anything would do.
A high profile woman in a low tech world had the benefit of being wrapped in a certain glamorous mystery. Earhart caught the public fancy and held it even in death. This is what the movie misses. A world that waited for her landing on Howland Island has wondered ever since what happened. People who were alive during Earhart’s ascendancy will tell you the movie is bloodless, that it fails to capture the real battles she fought just to get in the air. It fails also to present the dissension between Earhart and her husband, the publisher turned P.R. agent for his wife’s dangerous escapade. Richard Gere’s gentle George Putnam is at odds with the tough man we know from the biographies.
Hilary Swank does a fine job of resembling her character and saying all the right things, but Earhart, though shy in the face of publicity, was a fighter. Switching back and forth between her flying clothes and the glorious evening dresses of the ‘30s, Swank does capture every bit of the physical glamour that Earhart embodied.
In spite of it’s glitz, the movie does offer the bare bones of Earhart’s story, and for anyone who has been held by the mystery for years, it is a welcome, if not enlightening, addition to the lore. It’s worth seeing and may even lure you to one of the good biographies out there.
The hugely advanced technology of today’s world suggests that the solution to the disappearance of the aviator and her navigator may yet be found. The curiosity about Earhart that has lingered for years is an emotional sort, the sort that still wants to know what destroyed the dream of a brave pioneer.
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