For years when people have asked me which woman I honor, I am likely to say Margaret Thatcher. You can imagine the varied responses I get, depending of the politics of the person who asks the question. There are not many people one does not know whose deaths inspire grief; for me, Margaret Thatcher is one of those. Views on Thatcher vary even on the Right, from Mark Steyn, whose eulogy suggests she is the mother of her country to Theodore Dalrymple, whose elogy is far less laudatory. Many on the Left in Britain are not only celebrating her demise, but wish she’d never been born. This, of course, is because she had an effect on the country.
One of the Thatcher quotes I read recently was this, “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”
The evening of the day that Margaret Thatcher died, I went to the movies and saw Ginger and Rosa. I had read the Joe Morgenstern review of the movie a couple of weeks ago and finding it actually in a theater in Cleveland, decided to go. It is not a big movie. It is a little movie about big things, that is, if you think of families and friendship as big things. The performances are all very good. The story is not much; two girls are friends all their lives and in their teens go in the two directions that the young tended to go in the early 60s; they were either taken with sexual liberation and hedonism or with the political concerns of the era. Sally Potter, the director, offers a limited point of view, that of a British girl in 1963, and one complaint as someone who lived through the era are the anachronisms in the film, as if all of the 60s were reflected back to that year.
The fearful pretension of the idea that the world could end in nuclear holocaust at any moment is a little hard to take. We are constantly reminded, because it is the preoccupation, or maybe obsession, of the girl, Ginger. After an hour or so, the close-ups of the child-face saying “We are all going to die because of the bomb” leave the viewer, or at least left me, wanting to give said little face a little smack. There is no mention of Communism as a threat or as revelation, which lack is like forgetting meat in the stew. However, the comparison of people who look after themselves alone and those who worry about taking care of others is a theme and a more enduring and essential one than that of the politics of the time. Ginger’s “activist” father, whose politics took him to jail as a conscientious objector in WWII makes the awful choice to live out his principles of personal liberation, wrecking havoc as he goes. He leaves the family, wife and daughter, for a life rooted in individuality and an insistence on the rightness of “breaking the rules” of society and convention. Later in the 60s he would have said he was doing his own thing, but even in 1963 that was the Romantic ideal of Britain’s intelligentsia. By the end of the movie he sees he has done harm, but by that time his family will have to live with the consequences.
There is more to say about the movie, including to wonder why the main moral voices in favor of family must be those of a pair of homosexuals, cutely named Mark 1 and Mark 2 and an unmarried radical poet named Bella. Would anyone of the Left, hearing what the frankly excellent Timothy Spall, as Mark 1 , says about family be able to take it seriously if those words were spoken by an actor playing a father in a traditional family? So traditional moral values can now only be spoken by those presumed to have no personal stake in them, beyond the good of society? The latter is the best excuse I can come up with.
“We want a society where people are free to make choices, to make mistakes, to be generous and compassionate. This is what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the state is responsible for everything, and no one is responsible for the state.” Thatcher said that, too. This is a movie about people free to make choices and mistakes and the essential morality of the people making such choices makes all the difference. The movie is full of left-wing voices resisting the state, which is seen as irresponsible. The young person I viewed the movie with seemed to find the rhetoric confusing. Perhaps both quotes and politics lose too much when taken out of context.
The logical consequences of British and world politics of the 1960s was what Thatcher was confronting and then coping with in the 1980s. Thinking about Thatcher and Ginger and Rosa has left me thoroughly depressed thinking about the logical consequences of our politics today.