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The Frozen River directed by Courtney Hunt is a homicide film which describes crimes of illegal smuggling of immigrants. In general, at the beginning, the movie presents Ray (Melisa Leo) in a desperate situation after her husband’s disappearance with their savings. Ray has two children to care, and she is urgently required to make payment on the newly acquired trailer. However, with her diminutive income from the local one-dollar store, she is unable to keep herself afloat (Frozen River: Screenplay 6). In her search for her husband she bumps into Lila (Misty Upham) – a young Mohawk woman who has stolen the car of her husband and claimed she found the car abandoned with key in the ignition, in the mean time they quickly get acquainted and lucrative opportunities open up (Frozen River: Screenplay 12). The two women form an implausible partnership in smuggling immigrants across the frozen river that forms the border between the US and Canada. Despite hopefully expecting solutions to their life hardship, they indulge in further problems. In the advancement of themes in this film, Courtney Hunt has used various symbols such as colors, blowtorch, the car, the gun, the river, the merry-go-round and among others (Frozen River: Screenplay 46). In this work, I am going to discuss the application of symbolism (the river) in developing the plot of the film and its interconnection with the themes and characters in the movie.

Symbolism is often considered as a key issue when it comes to exploring any art, and films are no exception. Movie, as one of the seven arts, is richer since it involves time movement element and the interaction among characters, among protagonists and the setting or environment, and between the setting and objects. As a sort of speech, film image has its own ideographic expressiveness, purpose, effect, and techniques. Frozen River uses more direct symbolism in a bid to give deeper meaning to its theme.

The filmmaker, Courtney Hunt, uses an image of the frozen river to illustrate easiness in the society as it looks solid but may not be. In the film, the family of Ray faces instability in terms of finances hence is faced with daring poverty to extent of lacking balanced diet as evidenced by the overreliance of popcorn and tang. Furthermore, Ray and Lila had to involve themselves in smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States from Canada via the border of a treacherous frozen river in order to earn a living for their lives and families. In the same way, the frozen river could rapture and break up at any moment. What is more, they lived in trepidation of being discovered and caught by the police or government agency, which implied that they could rupture their lives any moment (Courtney, Melissa and Upham 78).

A case of the river symbolism also arises in the actions of the characters. For instance, at the time when Ray and Lila were smuggling in the Pakistanis, Ray has feared that the bag they were carrying could possibly contain a bomb and she buried it lightly at the frozen river. This gives an impression she is cold-hearted with same extreme like the river as she seemed only intending to secure herself and the family. After realizing her erroneous mistakes they risked going to cross the river again despite the hazard (Frozen River 2010). The fact that Lila even used her body to warm the baby introduces another angle of perception to the audience. This kind and merciful act introduces a feeling to the audience that even though the surface seems ruthless maybe under it there is some warmth in the heart, similarly to the frozen river there is a lot of creatures living in the depths (O’Keefe, Hunt, Leo and Boone 112). As the movie approaches the end, we are further confirmed of this case when the police find, them and Ray is arrested. Even after Lila having helped Ray to escape, Ray returns back, submits herself and pleads guilty finally. 

In addition, another symbol of the frozen river of greater significance represents the difficulty for the poor people to cross over into prosperity. The society is depicted as having a weakness in helping all people living in dire poverty. In fact, it is out of self-courage that these two single mothers involve in illegal and risky business in an effort to raise their children with barely any resources at their disposal (Frozen River 2010). Eventually, they get themselves into trouble by violating the law with Ray ending up in jail. The frozen river keeps the poor people poor and anyone who risks crossing it may lose the little he or she has earned or has (O’Keefe, Hunt, Leo and Boone 112).

This symbolism gives the audience an insight of the situation facing the natives of North America. According to the movie, it is observed that the dilemma is at the periphery of the river than at its heart. The country is at the stake of cultural and racial conflicts as mass inflow of emigrants gets in illegally. Consequently, many families and cultures live at the world of defeat, fear and malaise. The lives of Ray and Lila demonstrate effortless struggle of common people to achieve some dignity and independence. The border of the frozen river separates the nation and, therefore, it is supposedly hard to do that (O’Keefe, Hunt, Leo and Boone 112). Again, the surface of the river is unpredictable, and any time it can crumble; hence the society is in great danger of survival. Apparently, road is used to symbolize nationhood; the absence of road, the frozen river, is regarded as a counter-representation of nationhood (Frozen River 2010).

In conclusion, the frozen river, which is the ultimate title of the movie, symbolizes many relevant facts of the film such as illegal smuggling of immigrants, tension and poverty as well as the characters of the movie. The object of symbolism enhances the understanding of the message conveyed to the society; the intention of Courtney Hunt is to make the society aware of evils and sufferings around it.

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