TIFF 2012: ’Middle of Nowhere’ praises its heroine for her strength while castigating selflessness
Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere demonstrates a profound knowledge of how formidable it is to carry on as one outgrows people and parts of life that threaten to stifle a true sense of self. Nowhere follows a woman who consistently gives more to her man than she gives to herself. For Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) having one relationship be the focal point of her existence has taken a toll on how much she is willing to enjoy the company of others and appreciate her own sacred freedom. Trapped by her admirable loyalty, her journey to breaking away from crushing obligation is as much about fighting herself as it’s about repossessing a strength that has been there all along.
Ruby’s selflessness has become a liability. Her absent husband Derek (the excellent Omari Hardwick of TV’s Saved and For Colored Girls) is a man riding out an 8 year prison sentence. She promises him that she’ll wait for his release to restart life. The thought of Derek’s correlative love and devotion has been holding Ruby together. To discover his priorities are anything contrary to hers could tear her world apart. Remaining faithful, she has kept her head down working hard to make a comfortable existence for them once his term ends. Fortunately enough she has inadvertently been investing in herself, getting a nursing degree. She is an independent woman who relies on no one but herself. That her real goal for long term happiness rests solely on her husband behaving and holding up his end of the bargain is deeply troubling. It’s an all too common spiral of thinking that women can fall into- putting their own passions on the backburner. She seems like the last to acknowledge that a bit of giving into long repressed wants could make the difference between happiness and languishing in a self imposed purgatory.
Corinealdi’s Ruby is smart, resourceful, reserved and righteous in her condemnation of people who want to give up on Derek. It is a wondrous thing that how the audience feels for her is not rooted in her appearance or her taste in men but the noble, moral way she carries herself through life. She has tough convictions that most people can’t live up to but that she deserves to have whatever happiness she will allow herself to have. Hardwick’s Derek is just as composed as Ruby comes off and keeps one guessing as to whether she justified in her unwavering allegiance to him. There are glimpses of what might have been the close relationship between them before prison but there is a subtlety well done sense of separation that hard time has inflicted on Derek that is visibly present between them. An unspeakable void between their now vastly different experiences.
DuVernay expertly guides us through Ruby’s quiet, focused, celibate life which in which her decisions, dependent on her positive attitude and setting her own perimeters, will determine what happens to her next. If Derek turns out to be a different man than the one she has invested in, then she has been failing herself living only for him. The hard work of the film is that Ruby may have to find out who she is and what she wants for herself apart from him. Complicating things further is that an available man who makes an honest living as a bus driver is quite expressly interested in taking care of her, causing Ruby deep concern and throwing her small world into confusion. Her weakness and the biggest hindrance to the film is the prolonged hesitation in moving onto decisions more pointedly focused on her well-being. DuVernay has created a unique role model for women on the big screen in Ruby- although she is too heavily embroiled in the importance of her marriage, she has a extremely pronounced sense of authentic pride that is not dependent on beauty or what a man can give her but the right path her moral compass will surely lead her. She will be able to stand on her own if her priorities begin with herself.
– Lane Scarberry