ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE: BEST PICTURE
Pacifist Quaker ways are strained by the American Civil War. [ Friendly Persuasion credits: Dir: William Wyler/ Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins, Marjorie Main/ 140 min/ Family, Drama/ Non-Aggression]
The first half of this film is essentially an image dramatized in great depth; the second half is a drama about war. At the center of the story is a Quaker farm family in Indiana.
Through a series of light, comic scenes, we become familiar with their innocent, pastoral life — their farm, their conservative religious lifestyle, their loving family relationships, and their rather mild “sins” (music, dance, and the occasional horse race). But in the second half of the film, this Norman Rockwell panorama is suddenly clouded over by the coming Civil War.
The Quaker religion forbids fighting, but as the Quaker community itself becomes threatened, each member must choose the degree to which he will follow that dictate. That’s the principal tension here. Each of the main characters makes a different compromise; but in the end all weather the storm, and the rhythm of placid Quaker life is returned.
The Quaker idea that people should resolve conflicts with one another by using “friendly persuasion” — that is, by appealing to reason, setting an example, and applying social pressure — instead of resorting to force is one that libertarians will find admirable. In fact, it would be libertarianism itself if this hesitation to use force were not also applied to self-defense. The impracticality of that prohibition is illustrated here. As the marauding Southern troops invade, the Quakers are easy prey.
Still, you can’t help but admire the Quakers. They share with libertarians a philosophical opposition to the initiation of force, and seem to understand, as few others do, that violence begets violence and peace begets peace.
Despite some serious subject matter, Friendly Persuasion is really a lighthearted film that for the most part portrays a happy (if rigid) Quaker existence. There are many mildly amusing comic scenes, including one in which Marjorie Main plays essentially the same farmwoman character, Ma Kettle, for which she had already become famous. This is an upbeat family film, and an interesting window into Quaker life.