Middle of Nowhere
By Brendan Cheney With on January 25, 2012

This was a beautiful film. The lead, Emayatzy Corinealdi, is in almost every shot and she has a powerful, vulnerable presence. This is her first film and she holds your attention like a veteran actress. The story this film tells is a fascinating one that walks through a brief season of Ruby and her husband Derek's lives. It opens with Derek in prison for a gun charge and Ruby putting her medical career on hold in order to be available to their relationship. Early on, we see Ruby as a willing sacrifice on the altar for the benefit of their marriage. However, in the course of the film, it becomes apparent that this is not fully a healthy love between the two. More and more, Ruby's character reveals that she has a problem with codependency. Initially, she appears selfless in her desire to babysit for her single parent sister; as the film progresses, it seems that she needs to be needed. There is some hint at this in her chosen profession as a nurse. She desires to help others but it is fulfilling a need within her to be needed. In many ways, this film is about Ruby waking up to the truth of herself and her situation. She comments at one point that she knew these things about her situation, but refused to acknowledge it. She says, "I wasn't blind." This scene is a pivotal moment for her into taking responsibility solely for herself. Late in the movie, Ruby says "We are caught between the expectations of what should be and what is." She comes to grips with what she thought life was going to be contrasted with what it truly is in this stage. One of the ideas in this film is how loving from far away. The geographical and situational distance between Ruby and her husband is deep and has an impact on their ability to be in relationship with one another. It makes me wonder, what's our ability to love one another from far away? I got the opportunity to pose this question to the brilliant director, Ava DuVernay. She responded, "All things are possible with love. Proximity doesn't matter. It's about connection." I thought this was a profound statement of hope, particularly in light of the relational challenge we see in Middle of Nowhere. Apart from story, this film has two incredibly strong points. The music is one of the highlights. The style is varied and perfectly suited to every scene; I found myself being swept up into the moment because of the score. The second item is the cinematography. The shots were wonderfully long, giving the audience an opportunity to dwell in the emotion of the moment. The camera moves ever so slightly in important moments, giving me the impression that I was there observing the moment and not just watching it on a screen. An excellent movie and one worth watching; I recommend finding a way to see it.

About the Author: Brendan Cheney

5 Responses to "Middle of Nowhere"

  1. This was certainly not a film I would have seen if it were not for Sundance which immediately makes me wonder about all the fabulous movies I must be missing! The premise of a black woman from Compton who “stands by her man” while he is sentenced to eight years of prison could not be further from my world.

    The music in this movie drew me in; it made me long to be a part of Ruby’s story and to find out more. The Story presented by Ava DuVerney was interesting, if foreign, but the character of Ruby and the relationship dynamics is what won me over. When I consider that they had no children, I have to especially admire that Ruby would honor her marital commitment (at least initially). I cannot imagine the emotional pain of such a separation.

    The relationships with which I most connected were between the mother and the daughters. The frustration of the mother wanting to connect to her adult daughters and simply lacking the tools to make it different was heartbreaking. I wanted them to have healing and peace.

    After the movie, I continued to reflect on the women as well as Ruby’s revealing that she did not question her husband about his dealings when she knew down deep that something did not add up; she knew that he was not constantly moving furniture even if she did not know that he was dealing in guns. This made me look at places in my life where I know something is not quite right, but I really do not want to know what is really happening.

  2. BTW, I did not see Ruby as co-dependent or selfless. I saw her as a woman committed to family while finding her own way in life.

  3. This is a powerful story of love, commitment, family, anger and despair and what that looks like all tied together in the stunning portrait of a woman stuck in the middle of nowhere.  Ruby’s life is on hold.  Her husband’s in prison and she seems stuck in the cellblock beside him as she is unable to move forward from this event without it coloring everything else in her life.  This is a glacier of a film as it grinds relentlessly forward, unhurried by adherence to the usual hurried advances of plot or character development.  On one level it is the story of a woman whose husband is in jail and the tale of how she tries to hold their life together through unthinking sacrifice and sheer force of will.  While on another level it is the story of how we all can put on the chains of our own bondage and smilingly accept the bars of our own prisons.  It is about the struggle of escaping from familial expectations and the bitterness and pain that can erupt at a moment’s notice when love turns sour and hope goes to ashes as you gaze upon the wreckage of a loved one’s life and are uncertain and unable to offer aid.  Ruby eventually realizes that she needs to break the destructive cycle revolving around both her husband and her mother and decides she needs to live her life for herself, however the film ends on a bittersweet note for though all paths are open to her it’s uncertain that the wreckage of her relationships are going to be able to be salvaged.


    The movie Middle of Nowhere is a film about emancipation and choice. Exceptionally shot and cast in nineteen short days in Los Angeles, the film is a dramatic look at the marriage relationship between Ruby, a woman preparing for medical school, and her husband Derek, who has just been incarcerated for what starts off as five years, but ends up being eight years. The film explores marriage commitment and fidelity and the private struggle of a woman who reprioritizes and restructures her life based on her husband’s prison sentence.

    The narrative is told exclusively from Ruby’s point of view (POV) and chronicles her decision to stand by her husband’s side and the difficult sacrifices she makes during those lost years that that land her in the “middle of nowhere”. The camera follows Ruby’s life of solitude and her increasing lack of freedom in choosing to ‘stand by her man’. The punctuated moments of isolation and loneliness, from reading her mail alone in the dark, to eating meals alone, to falling asleep without Derek, give the audience a voyeuristic look into Ruby private moments of isolation entrenched in her loyalty and love for her husband. We are with her at all times (she is literally in every scene of the film) and we see and learn things firsthand as she receives and processes them. The filmmaker, Ava DuVernay, did a great job of interjecting Derek into many of Ruby’s private moments in the way of flashbacks or dream sequences so that we continue to feel her love and dedication to her husband while still being aware of Derek’s presence even though he is not there physically.

    The most pervasive theme, as echoed by the director, is that the film is not just about relationships, but imbalanced relationships. We see this visually played out cinematically through the film’s framing, the camera angles and lighting of the shots: The movie is framed exclusively from Ruby’s POV and we never see Derek in his environment in prison; the film often racks focus between characters, further expressing the sense of imbalance; the film consistently frames Ruby in tight MCU and XCU shots as though we (the audience) could peer right into her thoughts and her very soul.

    Aside from imbalanced relationships, the film was also about finding ones self. Ruby was in a liminal zone for eight years in the film—stuck between their past life together and an unknown future before them. Ruby’s entire life was on hold with Derek in jail, during which she lost her sense of purpose, of hope and of self. In the closing scene, Ruby asks of Derek, but most likely of herself by inquiring, ‘Where are you?’ It’s a question I now ask myself.”

    While the film’s ending is ambiguous, my initial impression was that Ruby eventually gave up on their marriage because Derek had thrown in the towel and that is why she mailed him his papers on his case. It was fascinating to hear filmmaker Ava’s take on the conclusion that Ruby was not giving up on Derek, but waiting until he was ready to take charge. The story of Ruby’s life is open ended, but it does end with her proclaiming her own emancipation through her kiss in a powerful scene at the prison. In that kiss, she overcomes the barriers of separation, loss and disloyalty and finally takes control of her own destiny, regaining her identity and sense of self.


    by Tamara Khalaf on Feb 5th, 2012 at 5:15 pm
  5. Middle of Nowhere offers a beauty that is almost inarticulate in its depth.  Whatever one may think that they are going to get from a story about a couple’s struggle to have their relationship survive the husband’s incarceration, Ava DuVernay rightly skips over the cliché straight into a story of truth, brokenness, and dignity.  The truth that comes like a firestorm for the lead character is immediate and confrontational to her existence.  She’s a woman who, in trying to do the right thing, embarks on a journey for the real thing.  DuVernay is not afraid of ambiguity for her film or her characters.  This fearlessness begets the dignity in embracing ones brokenness as the only path to healing and true hope.  True hope – not a cookie-cutter version of hope – but a hard won, gritty, and soul-freeing journey to a hope that is owned only by God and the child for which it is intended.  The complicated story of this marriage and those that surround it is ripe with pain but it is the kind of pain that rises up from a desire to not give up even when you seemingly have given in.  Middle of Nowhere illustrated that peace and redemption is not always pretty and this is a word that could and should preach from any pulpit on any given Sunday morning.

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