Film Analysis #3 by Vanessa Thomas
Erin Brockovich directed by Steven Soderbergh is portrayal of a direct-action lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). The film’s plot is based upon the true story that the Hinkley, CA resident was involved in. The film stars Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich and Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Throughout the film Erin Brockovich acted upon the hexavalent chromium contamination caused when PG&E’s retention pools that leaked into the groundwater. The leakages ultimately caused Hinkley residents to have negative health consequences. Brockovich’s role in the lawsuit can be viewed as surprising due to her lack of expertise in health and law.
The film is a dramatization of real life events, so there are inaccuracies throughout the film. The film down played the vastness of the lawsuit. The speed of the trial and effects caused by the contamination seemed to occur rather fast, however when looking at reports of the incident the contamination affected Hinkley for decades. Additionally, Brockovich’s character may have been modified to make her to appear more authentic and relatable. Since the movie only had two hours to depict the events some parts were left out and were modified to depict the story to appeal to a broad audience.
Health concerns in relation to hexavalent chromium contamination and ingestion were the main driving forces that caused Brockovich to be involved in the lawsuit. Scientific knowledge pertaining to hexavalent chromium was not well-known at the time. As a result, skepticism about chromium VI arose due to the already existing knowledge that chromium III is beneficial to human health. Despite the similarities between the two ions, the difference in electrons causes chromium VI to be more reactive which ultimately causes it to have carcinogenic characteristics.
Throughout the film the theme of trust played a crucial role in the way in which the case developed. Masry’s law firm and their hired law partner did not easily gain the plaintiffs’ trust. The lawyers viewed the case as a personal monetary gain rather than helping others for a greater good. Masry ignored phone calls and did not keep in contact with Brockovich for a brief period during the case. Due to the vastness of the case, the Hinkley residents found themselves without agency. The lack of personableness from the lawyers caused the plaintiffs to have mistrust in them.
Additionally, trust was difficult to gain between groups due to misconceptions about chromium VI. PG&E presented themselves as a trustworthy company by distributing handouts that claimed that chromium VI was safe for human health. Since PG&E was a major corporation, the residents saw the information as credible until proven otherwise by Brockovich. In turn, Brockovich earned trust from her local community although she had no scientific knowledge or experience. Her lack of scientific knowledge contributed to her ability to accept that chromium VI was toxic when so many other people dismissed the possible chemical characteristic. As a result, her personableness allowed the other plaintiffs to invest their trust in her actions.
The theme of motherhood appears throughout the film, particularly in Brockovich’s character. Her maternal instincts allowed her to have knowledge pertaining to how to be personable with her fellow Hinkley residents. Brockovich was able to connect with other mothers affected because she personally had similar concerns about the health of her own children. Brockovich’s motherhood gave her an advantage in comparison to PG&E and the lawyers involved. Unlike PG&E and the lawyers, she was able to fathom how the residents felt throughout the case, which ultimately allowed her to make critical contributions to the case.
Erin Brockovich displayed elements of health, trust, and motherhood which depicted broader picture of the role water plays in society. Throughout the film water was perceived as a source of life and death through the possible health risks associated with chromium VI contamination. Water also played a role in creating fear in which a vital element for life became unusable and undesirable despite its essentialness to health. Overall, the film depicted the lesser publicized roles of water that most Americans do not take into account unless they have personally experienced a water contamination event.