In 1940, John Ford would add The Grapes of Wrath to his filmography. The film is an adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel in which a farming family, the Joads, pursues a fictitious utopia in California after having been forced off their land by the government. They lose everything, and anything that can be salvaged gets packed into a makeshift truck and hauled across the country. I’ve watched this movie twice already, and in my mind I somehow cannot separate the plot of The Grapes of Wrath from the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, back in the time of Moses.
With the movie taking place during the Great Depression, the socioeconomic situation is rough. This serves as a symbol of the realities of the American Dream. The utopia of California is only as real as the fiction that surrounds it allows. Although the Joads discover this as soon as they arrive in California, they are reluctant to leave, as there is no better state that they could go to in order to pursue a successful life. And they most certainly can’t go back home.
Through Ma (Jane Darwell), we see a woman who tries to manage the family in the absence of her husband, who is with them physically, but not mentally. And although I won’t say here how successful she was, I will say that there was something in her fortitude that moved me—not quite to tears, but to the sweating of my eyes.
Henry Fonda, who plays Tom Joad, would later say that The Grapes of Wrath was one of his favourite movies to be a part of.
Sure, I’m not an American, but I can still connect with the idea of having a dream, and that dream being ruined through some factor outside of my control. This is maybe the most devastating part of The Grapes of Wrath. Everything is beyond the Joads’ control. There is no work, pathetic fallacy abounds, and people come and go and live and die. All the family ever did was climb into their truck and turn towards California. Perhaps it’s a feeling that all people understand, which explains why The Grapes of Wrath would be included in my “Top 10 Movies of All Time” list, if I were to ever make one.