Film Analysis #2 by Zoe Ogline
Erin Brockovich is an excellent film directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich and Albert Finney as Edward Masry. This film brought to light how long problems with water control have been occurring and how little they are discussed. I really enjoyed watching this because there was good humor thrown into the story line, but not too much so it did not distract from the hardships the people of Hinkley, California went through. The relationships between water, business, wealth, trust, and gender are big themes in this true story and reflect problems still occurring throughout the world today.
Erin Brockovich was a single mother looking for a job when one day she got in a car accident with a doctor and she required serious medical attention. She hired a lawyer, Ed Masry, to help sue the doctor but ended up losing the case because she lost her temper. Masry would not return her calls and Erin went into his office and ended up arguing herself into a job at his firm. She eventually sees money offers by Pacific Gas and Electric for houses in Hinkley, California paired with medical bills. While investigating these records, she discovers that there might be a connection between the health issues families have been having living in Hinkley and the water that they have been consuming. Erin and Masry started making a case against PG&E for hiding the contamination of Hinkley’s groundwater with hexavalent chromium. After a long and grueling process of keeping up citizen support and getting enough evidence to convict PG&E, including obtaining papers from PG&E about hiding the contamination, they win the direct action lawsuit. $333 million was awarded to these people affected by this electric company, the largest amount won in a case in the United States. Erin Brockovich is still battling water related court cases against large corporations to this day.
The actual story of Erin Brockovich and the Pacific Gas and Electric Litigation is a lot more of a mess than the movie explains. Flaws of the justice system and lawyers are not portrayed in the movie due to the controversies that would have arisen if the film included what actually happened. Also, it would have dragged out the movie excessively if the whole court case was shown, and would have taken away from the big message of the story. In the movie, the poisoned citizens started to feel uneasy about the case once the separate law firm was brought in, but they were quickly reconciled by Brockovich. However, in reality, the people of Hinkley continued to be unsure about what was happening further with the case and there were many “closed doors” that the law does not require to be “opened”. The people of Hinkley continued to file lawsuits against their previous lawyers after the PG&E case because they did not receive as much money as they were promised. At the end of the movie, $5 million was awarded to the fictional Jensen family. This was a much larger sum of money than what was ever realistically awarded to families; the actual amount given to families in Hinkley ranged from $10,000 to $2 million. The dialogue of the film was created by the director, and Erin’s personality itself was designed to give more effect to how she was able to win the trust of the poisoned people of Hinkley. This film was meant to show the greatness of this case win and therefore included a lot more of the positive aspects of this ordeal and removed the harsh realities of the United States Justice system flaws.
There are many prominent water themes through-out this film. Water and big business is a very obvious one because it deals with the covering-up of the contaminated groundwater by Pacific Gas and Electric. Many big corporations, due to their monetary value adding additional influence in the government, can get away with removing documents by paying off employees or government officials. Also, they have the ability to hire exceptional lawyers to win court cases. If the problem caused by the large corporation happened in an area of low-income, they can also use their money to keep these affected people quiet. In the Hinkley groundwater contamination case, PG&E paid for doctors and offered money for the citizens’ homes. PG&E’s growth into a large corporation allowed them to be able to use their power over the Hinkley citizens.
Associated with big business is another water theme: the connection between water and wealth, as well as power due to wealth. PG&E, and other large companies, are worth a lot of money due to their control of important utilities over large amounts of land. In this movie, PG&E controlled the electric and gas distribution for many different cities in California and was worth $28 billion. This large amount of money allowed them to control the lower class citizens who they poisoned by offering to pay medical bills and more money for their houses than expected, seen with the Jensen family. This company held great power in the state and seemed untouchable, therefore the people of Hinkley never thought to question the reasoning behind their health issues.
The loss and gain of trust is another important theme in this movie. Once the people of Hinkley were informed about a possible connection between their health issues and the ground water, they lost confidence in the people with power. When Erin and Masry tried to raise support for the lawsuit against PG&E, people were wary to give them their time and money and risk it all to defeat the big corporation. Erin’s character design was meant to help boost this gain of trust between lawyers and the people of Hinkley, and the building of this relationship helped win the lawsuit.
Water and gender is another theme seen with Erin because she is perceived as just an uneducated mother of three, even as a “tramp”, due to her clothing choices and two divorces. Throughout the movie, she is never taken seriously by lawyers, including Ed Masry, and PG&E, all people with power and wealth. Water can be connected with motherhood because it is a substance that gives life, just like a mother brings life into the world with childbirth. Erin was fighting for the right for clean water for these people, almost acting as a mother to the people of Hinkley by bringing a life bearing substance back into these people’s city. This motherhood trait also helped gain support because it made her very headstrong in helping these people’s health issues and also gave her a more caring aspect than the other female lawyer from the new law firm had in the movie. It is important to note that the people of Hinkley who were affected by the contaminated groundwater were the only characters who took Erin seriously. Erin is a connection between two types of people who are commonly discriminated against: women and those of the lower class. This helped Ed Masry win support for his case against PG&E because the people of Hinkley trusted Erin through a common power struggle.
Erin Brockovich can be used to educate people on this court case and is useful in expressing how corporations can easily get away with breaking the law. However, with watching this film, it should be understood that this court case, and many others, are not as neatly worked out as it is portrayed through the plot line of the movie. Many Hinkley citizens were not given what they deserved as compensation for their health issues caused by hexavalent chromium. Battles like this PG&E case are still being fought all over the country due to poor and out-of-date infrastructure designs, as well as big businesses not willing to lose money for their mistakes. The director intended this movie to be used as proof that big business can be defeated if enough people come to together with those in power that actually care for the people’s well-being.
 @salon. ““Erin Brockovich”: The Real Story.” Salon. http://www.salon.com/2000/04/14/sharp/.
- @salon. ““Erin Brockovich”: The Real Story.” Salon. Accessed November 30, 2016. http://www.salon.com/2000/04/14/sharp/.