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The Good Earth

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Carissa Sadlier
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The Good Earth

The Good Earth – Based on the Novel by Pearl S. Buck 

I chose this film because I recognized the name of Pearl S. Buck. In my Steiner training, for 3rd grade Hebrew studies, one of the books suggested to read was Pearl S. Buck’s translation of Genesis. 

The opening lines of the film before the first picture frame states: 

“The soul of a great nation is expressed in the life of its humblest people. In this simple story of a Chinese farmer may be found something of the soul of China – its humility, its courage, its deep heritage from the past and its vast promise for the future.” 

The words sound like an extension of a hand to be shaken. The words make us believe the films director/editor is of the mind to be honorable in his depiction of Chinese culture, but the choices for the leads are Caucasian actors, the images don’t seem to hold true to these words.

The opening frame of the film is lovely. Black and white with the sharp lines of the mountains framing in the sky and then slowly the frame lightens and we see a river, a road and a village/home – relaxing

The lead actors do an excellent job in the film, I just wonder if they had been Chinese actors that were born and raised in China what differences there would be in their body language. Also, when they pretend they are poor, that their child is ill and actually a girl are they doing this to not upset the gods? Wouldn’t the god like that they are doing well? Would it be a slight to the gods to be doing well? 

It was eye-opening to watch the famine that plays out in the film and how it really gripped people and left them with few choices. This is not something that has been a part of my history. Even when the family is in the last throes of hunger the father beats his son for stealing food even though they are desperate.  Because this film represents how Americans saw Chinese people I appreciate the director showing the main character upholding his morals, but then to remember that he is a white man playing a Chinese person, while in the film all the actual Chinese actors are thieving and looting, is discouraging. 

In the next scene when people are being shot for the looting I can see the American public feeling sorry for the Chinese farmers and workers and in the same thought being furious about communism.  This helps me makes sense of the great fear of communism that saturates our country even now. 

The story has a cyclical nature, Wang loses his morals because of another woman and then regains them when he is back working on the land and not a “lord.”  Love and morality, these are shown throughout the movie, but most poignantly with the symbol of two pearls.