Citizen Ruth ★★★★

State by State (37/50)

Date admitted to the union: March 1, 1867
Origin of name: Name based on an Otoe Indian word meaning "flat water," referring to the Platte River
Population as of 2020: Estimated to be 1,952,570 inhabitants
Cities of Note: Lincoln, Omaha, Bellevue, Grand Island, Nebraska City, Hastings, North Platte, Columbus, Scottsbluff
Official State Song: "Beautiful Nebraska"
Notable LB Users: Tim Sanders, Zach Gilbert

There's a lot the Cornhuskers over at Nebraska have that they can be proud of, and no, I'm not just referring to the Runza (although it is a celebrated right of passage in every Nebraskan's life once they eat their first one). With the state having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire US, as well as being extremely affordable in the housing department, there's plenty reason many see it as the comfortable, healthy, and happy place to live in (that is, of course, once you get used to half of the year being tornado season and the other half being blizzard season. Oh, also there's the 80-degree Novembers. Have fun). The meat-loving, kool-aid-drinking, indie-music-listening citizens of the Tree Planet State, though, has its fair share of crazed fanaticism (besides the fun fanaticism in every UNL football game where stadiums are sold out each and every time), as Citizen Ruth sharply presents, satirizing the hot-button political issue of abortion and anti-abortion as viciously as one could get.

Ruth Stoops is, by all accounts, a terrible role model and not a person who should be caring for a child. Addicted to huffing intoxicants, already without custody of her four children, and generally rash without thinking things over for very long, Ruth's usual misdemeanors turns into a felony once it's learned she's pregnant yet again, endangering her fetus as a result of her actions. What would normally be a portrait of a drug user out on the streets is quickly interrupted once her story makes headlines, as she gets taken in by a very pro-Christian family that attempts to sway her on their side of anti-abortion in the name of the big "G". The stage is set, then, for the debate everyone other than Ruth has between pro-choice or pro-life, no one ever changing sides and picketing their sides as strongly as they can. Despite us the audience knowing that Ruth wants an abortion and is very clearly inable to truly kick her addictions, nobody on the pro-life side really knows or cares, and those on the pro-life side are less concerned on Ruth's decisions as they are in how to present Ruth as a capable citizen with options.

See, both sides want to mold and guide Ruth not based on how she feels about the child inside her, but rather the message it can send depending on what Ruth does, with both sides deeply concerned about how their treatment of their ideals comes across without letting Ruth have a say and ruin their goals. Because of this, the film takes neither side and instead merely lets each side reveal their hypocrisy and lunacy towards the ordeal. One second the anti-abortionists will sing proud songs about the infinite love Jesus spreads, the next loudly protesting and calling those that work at the abortion clinic "killers", flailing their signs of dead babys and making desperate promises that they could adopt the aborted children. One second the pro-choice civilians promise to give shelter to Ruth away from the megaphone-wielding religious fanatics trying to make Ruth think of the baby girl Tania inside her (despite tests stating her child is a boy as proof of how powerful a lie can spread and be sustained as long as it supports one side), the next berating her and using the same message-spreading logic of the pro-life nuts outside. Everyone's a radical hypocrite, sharing a common bond in how they'll try to get the ball in their court and get Ruth to either abort or keep the baby, even if it results to shady and sneaky tactics like bribery (which, given Ruth, can instantly sway her mind in spite of how poorly-thought out her spending is).

As absurd and crazed as Citizen Ruth presents both sides, there is some honest-to-God truth in the gray area that each side of the debate has thanks to us being flawed humans, as well as how we as a society tend to bloat a message and its ideals so much that we forget the person where the debate started in the first time (a fact the final shot of the film brilliantly demonstrates). With Laura Dern touchingly and hysterically bringing humanity in a foul-mouther insatiable person like Ruth, or Burt Reynolds in a small, but decisively smart role that stabs at the subtle scumminness behind a charismatic leader that the "BabySavers" look up to as a public mouthpiece of their "plight", each person brings some form of critique, some form of central flaw that breaks down each point in their arguments until they become unruly children trying to tell the world they're in the right, as if the complexities behind such a morally-inclined question can be whittled down to a simple answer. Wickedly satirical and brimming with small-town details, it's a view of American life hard to mock, yet deserving of it all the same.

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