Motherhood, Sacrifice, and Hope for Humanity in _Frozen River_

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In Frozen River (2008), Courtney Hunt tells a story of a white, poverty-stricken mother of two, Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), who partners by chance with a Mohawk Indian mother named Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), in smuggling of illegal immigrants to the US from Canada across the frozen river (St. Lawrence River) – the border. Author of The New York Times article aptly states that Hunt’s film “evokes a perfect storm of present-day woes: illegal immigration, ethnic tension, depressed real estate, high gas prices and dire poverty” (Holden). Frozen River opens up with a shot of widely spread tracts of frozen river. This is part of Courtney Hunt’s mise-en-scene. By repeating this motif at different moments throughout the course of film, she wants to convey the idea of living on ‘thin ice’. Based on a The Guardian article; “the frozen St. Lawrence River signifies both the opportunity to make quick money and the risk of disaster” (French). The film is rare in its kind because it does not employ sentimentality in conveying its message. In spite of this fact, it still manages to find balance between despair and hope by through the implicit representation of motherhood, sacrifice and the hope for humanity.

One of the very first scenes in the film is when Ray sits barefoot in a car in front of her house, smokes a cigarette, and cries, after she finds an empty glove box, where she kept her savings for the down payment of her ‘dream house’. It’s a very long and slow close-up shot, which first focuses on woman’s feet and then slowly moves upward to show the details of her face. This close-up shot of Ray’s face is repeated in different scenes throughout the film, which allows viewers to clearly see her life struggle on her face.

Ray, who works at...

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...d suspense. As stated previously, Frozen River is unique in its genre due to the almost complete lack of “rhetoric or sentimentality” (French). This is one of the most important features, which significantly distinguishes this film from overly sentimental and over-romanticized Hollywood films.

Works Cited

French, Philip. "Film Review: Frozen River | Film | The Observer." Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.


“Frozen River” film by Courtney Hunt

Holden, Stephen. “Only a Few More Smuggling Days Left Before Christmas? It’s Not a Wonderful Life -” Movie Reviews, Showtimes and Trailers - Movies - New York Times - The New York Times. 01 Aug. 2008. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.


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