Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Julia Roberts and Aaron Eckhart in "Erin Brockovich"

From the film "Erin Brockovich"

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Aesthetic Realism Seminar
The Most Popular Mistakes about Love—& How Not to Make Them!
by Nancy Huntting

Mistake #3: Women Are Intelligent & Sensitive; Men Are Brutes

We can learn about some of the popular mistakes about love through Erin Brockovich's relation to her next door neighbor, George, played by Aaron Eckhart. Erin Brockovich wants to see men as selfish brutes, shown through contemptuous remarks about both her ex-husbands. However, she gives two messages to men: a come on through the alluring way she dresses, and a get away through her scornful rebuffs. This makes her very representative. 

Out of desperation, Erin begs lawyer Ed Masry, played by Albert Finney, to employ her, and he grudgingly agrees. That evening, we see her tenderly covering her sleeping baby. Next door, George starts revving his Harley-Davidson. She runs out, furious at the loud noise. He apologizes immediately, and in a likable way introduces himself as her new neighbor—but she's angry and unrelenting. 

George, in old jeans and leather, appears to be tough, but as he talks, there's a forthright kindness, a sweetness. He is, of course, affected by Erin; he wants "to make up for my rudeness" by taking her out to dinner and asks for her phone number. She smiles and with a touch of scorn says, "You want my number?" George, daunted but still cheerful, says: "I do, I do want your number." 

Seeing they affect a man, women have made a huge mistake: they have had a contempt victory, which comes to "look at what I can do to this fool." I am tremendously grateful to know what Mr. Siegel explained about this: he pointed out that the world has "a preliminary hand" in a woman's charms; it is the world that a man is affected by as he is affected by a woman: opposites such as delicacy and strength, curve and straight line. Erin is scornful that men, smitten by her surface, haven't seen her depth. But she doesn't want them to, either; she likes the victory of confusing them and feeling they're dopes. 

Meanwhile her response to George has style and reveals things that deeply matter to her:

Erin: "Which number do you want—George?"

George: "Well, how many numbers you got?"

Erin: "Oh, I got numbers coming out my ears—for instance, ten."

George: "Ten. "

Erin: "Yeah, that's how many months old my baby girl is." 

George: "You got a little girl?"

Erin: "Yeah, sexy, huh? How's about this for a number—six, that's how old my other daughter is; eight is the age of my son; two is how many times I've been married and divorced, sixteen is the number of dollars in my bank account; 850-3943, that's my telephone numbervand with all the numbers I gave you I'm guessing zero is the number of times you're going to call me."

These impersonal numbers stand for the most personal aspects of Erin's life. She turns abruptly to go in—

George: "How the hell you remember your bank balance right off the top of your head? —that impresses me!" —as the door slams —"and you're dead wrong about that zero thing, baby." 

George proves Erin wrong. He likes her children and they like him; and she is much affected. Knowing she desperately needs someone to baby-sit so she can work, George offers to watch them in the afternoons. Erin is suspicious of his motive, but he responds with good-humored criticism—"You’ve got so many friends in this world, you can't use one more?" She reluctantly agrees. 

Erin Brockovich's purpose at the law firm is very different from how she is with George—there she has humility, asks many questions and uses her keen mind to know. She's  a secretary and Ed Masry gives her a real estate case to simply "open a file on." Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen in "Erin Brockovich"She finds medical records in it, is puzzled, and starts doing research to find out why. She visits the client, the Jensens, a couple in their 30s whose home Pacific Gas & Electric wants to buy—and finds out the utility paid for a doctor, who assured them there was no connection between the several benign tumors of Mrs. Jensen or her husband's Hodgkin's disease and the minuscule amounts of chromium in their water from the PG&E plant. (To the right is a still from the film of Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen)

Chromium is good for human beings, they were told. But Erin finds there are six kinds of chromium: one is highly toxic. Buried in records at the water board is evidence this one is the deadly, cancer causing kind. 

When Erin goes back to tell Donna Jensen, Mrs. Jensen can't believe it at first—then she looks out at her two children splashing in a pool, and with sudden, terrible urgency, runs to get them out.

Erin will come to know over 600 families and their children in the community of Hinkley suffering from diseases caused by the chromium. As she visits and talks to them in their homes, we see her mind working carefully and how deeply she's affected by them. Increasingly she comes to have a beautiful anger. Her boss wants to keep it a real estate settlement, saying she has no idea the difficulty of a toxic tort against a multi-billion dollar corporation:

Ed Masry: "It could take forever —and I'm just a guy with a small private firm." 

Erin (angrily): "Who happens to know that they've poisoned people and lied about it.  I may not know [the legal difficulty], but I know the difference between right and wrong."

Erin doesn't give up—and there is good will, belief in the best in Ed Masry. His conscience is stirred —he agrees to take on PG&E, and Erin works literally day and night to get the necessary evidence to win the case. The families in Hinkley would win the largest direct-action settlement ever—$330 million dollars— from Pacific Gas & Electric. 


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