Review of Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (2018)

Moving picture, 90 minutes

Seen in 2018.

The life and work of Ursula K. Le Guin, especially Rocannon’s World (1966), A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Tombs of Atuan (1971), “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973), The Dispossessed (1974), Always Coming Home (1985) and Tehanu (1990).

Talking heads with oil- and vector-animated illustrations. These animated paintings are beautiful. The vector stuff, adding unsubtle motion to old book covers, is mostly an ugly distraction. The discussion of Le Guin’s work is admirably even-handed, letting her acknowledge the non-feminism of her early work as a flaw. The discussion of her life is not as good. There is an implication that her force of will came from having only older brothers as her siblings (wild speculation). Her parents’ work is brought up but not in quite enough detail to give it explanatory value.

There is very little attempt to explain Le Guin’s politics, though her anti-capitalist speech at the 2014 National Book Awards—upon receiving the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters—is included. That five-minute speech, edited to perhaps four minutes instead of 30 seconds, would have served as a good opener. In it, Le Guin alluded to a development the film purports to chart. At the beginning of her career, Le Guin wrote in genres held in very low esteem by the cultural elite: Children’s or YA literature, fantasy and science fiction. Her receiving the award showed that decades of brilliant artistry and popularity, including her own, had helped ease prejudice. Capitalism also assisted this development.

moving picture non-fiction