Little Pink House: Best Classical Liberal Movie Ever?
By Dan Klein
David Henderson gives Little Pink House a 9. I’d give it a 10. The makers of the movie, Courtney (director, writer) and Ted (producer) Balaker are friends of mine, so beware possible bias here.
Jeanne Tripplehorn, in blue, plays Charlotte Wells, brilliantly characterized in the film. Catherine Keener plays Susette Kelo. Both actors do a great job. Photo: Korchula Productions.
Two narratives launch the movie. Two separate groups of people lay plans, pursue hopes, and form expectations, each acting in the belief that their plans are lawful. But the two collide, because one of the plans is based on violence. Whose set of plans serves the greater good? The film presupposes that that violence is unjust and damaging to the greater good, and that presupposition is one I fully accept.
The movie unfolds with an intelligence that is beautiful, getting better as it goes, for it turns into something beyond expectations. Like Titanic, the film starts with the viewer knowing how it ends, and a feeling of doom. It depicts a conflict and a battle, but the sublime is the consummation of Susette Kelo’s victory. She lost in the Supreme Court, 4 to 5, but, in a sense that good art can actualize, she won.
The collision is remarkably well done. The other group—the politicos and Pfizer—are not depicted as sinister or mean-spirited. They are very credible normal people in such stations, who believe in the goodness of bad action. It is the collision of beliefs and the words in which those beliefs are expressed that is so brilliantly developed. College courses in political theory, political science, law, ethics, and communications could all gain by study of the script.
Since the story turns into a battle over government rulemaking, the film is able to carry out that development without speechifying and didacticism. I could write a lengthy appreciation of the script.
The battle is one of words and discourse. George Will’s 2004 Washington Post syndicated column “Despotism in New London” is a natural part of the plot. The two initial threads come together in the drama over government rulemaking. That is why I’d say that Little Pink House is the best classical liberal movie I’ve ever seen—it is a classical liberal movie in a more specific way than movies that simply avouch classical liberal principles or please classical liberal sentiments (consider these lists: 1, 2, 3, 4). Little Pink House is about classical liberal principles—principles and presumptions involved in proper government rulemaking within a stable political order—and about the social affairs, especially discourse, surrounding those principles and presumptions.
Susette Kelo is the little person being stepped on by a system perpetuated by normal people who think, talk, and otherwise act irresponsibly. Her fortunes appear hopeless until a new ally is discovered, an ally with special powers. That ally is Scott Bullock of the Institute of Justice, and the special powers are wisdom of the world and skills of discourse. Bullock is not presented as a venerable and magical Gandalf the White, nor even Gandalf the Gray. Yet we come to see that Bullock conjures powers of ethical reasoning and constitutional law. In the final event, his powers fail, 4 to 5, but in another sense succeed.
The film is wholesome, but I do see a rape motif. The violation is a complex machination, symbolized by the shovel-head of a backhoe crashing into the sacred. The machination is spearheaded by Charlotte Wells, played superbly by Jeanne Tripplehorn, though Wells is ever in denial about the violation. She never thinks of herself as a violator, and the whole experience leaves no mark on her conduct.
The Institute for Justice writes about the Kelo decision:
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision against Kelo and her neighbors sparked a nation-wide backlash against eminent domain abuse, leading eight state supreme courts and 43 state legislatures to strengthen protections for property rights. Moreover, Kelo educated the public about eminent domain abuse, and polls consistently show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to Kelo and support efforts to change the law to better protect home and small business owners…
Meanwhile, in New London, the Fort Trumbull project has been a dismal failure. After spending close to $80 million in taxpayer money, there has been no new construction whatsoever and the neighborhood is now a barren field. In 2009, Pfizer, the lynchpin of the disastrous economic development plan, announced that it was leaving New London for good, just as its tax breaks are set to expire.
In the Supreme Court decision, confiscation was supported by Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg. The four who supported Susette Kelo’s ownership were O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas.
Little Pink House has won many awards and plaudits, and been embraced across the political spectrum—showing the potential for wide appeal of classical liberal sensibilities.