Erin Brockovich: A Well Framed Narrative

In his 2000 film, Erin Brockovich, director Steven Soderbergh tells the story of the contamination by means of hexavalent chromium used in the Pacific Gas & Electric plant in Hinkley, California and how a young woman, Erin Brockovich, was able to make a major impact on the case without any previous legal experience (Erin Brokovich). The narrative of this story is strengthened heavily by the fact that it is based on a true story and that the effects of the pollution have since been widely publicized. Furthermore, the environmental and moral themes of this film can be investigated through a narrative analysis of the framing and plot to portray the environmental injustice and pollution

In a narrative analysis, the emphasis is on framing and how the author, or in this case director, frames the story to achieve the intended effect. These frames create a collective interpretation in which the viewer is guided to feel a certain way and relate to certain characters. In this film, the narrative revolves around Erin Brockovich, a single mother, twice divorced, who struggles to maintain a stable life for herself and her children. From the beginning of the film her story is framed in a way that creates a sense of sympathy amongst the viewers and although her character comes off as abrasive, there is no doubt that the viewer wants her to succeed (Erin Brockovich). Her compassion for the victims of the hexavalent chromium contamination is what drives the plot and focuses the narrative on the human costs of pollution (Erin Brockovich).

Since the story is told from Erin’s perspective, the knowledge of the narrative is restricted to what she personally experiences. This creates a sort of filter over the plot, as the viewer experiences everything on Erin’s terms, which serves as a constant guide. In the beginning of the story, she is personally wronged by the justice system and that coupled with her genuine love and understanding for the Hinkley citizens frames the story in a “Good vs. Evil” perspective (Erin Brockovich). In this case, the moral aspect of the narrative is essential to the narrative analysis, as a well-structured narrative has the power to reshape the environment (Cronon 1992).

The plot moves rapidly from Erin’s own story to those of the affected residents of Hinkley, which puts a very personal touch on the story and demonstrates the atrocities of the PG&E pollution, specifically with the cases of childhood cancer and miscarriages. Erin’s door-to-door campaign in the desert wasteland atmosphere of Hinkley demonstrates her commitment to the case, which manifests itself in the viewer through ill feelings towards PG&E. In the courtroom scenes, PG&E is portrayed as cold and unsympathetic to the damages they have caused and their efforts to avoid responsibility for the pollution, going so far as to destroy documents, leaves a sour taste in the viewer’s mouth, leaving one thirsty for environmental justice (Erin Brockovich).

This film revolves around the character development of Erin Brockovich and how her personal journey reflects the overall narrative. The narrative is framed so that PG&E is viewed as the enemy throughout the film and the evidence that Erin and her team gather proves that the company’s pollution is directly responsible for the effects on the population of Hinkley, and a judge later awards the families a collective sum of $333 million (Erin Brockovich). Therefore, this brief narrative analysis demonstrates the power of a narrative analysis and the effect that framing has on the overall story, as well as the outcomes and resolutions.

Works Cited

Cronon, William. 1992. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative,” The

            Journal of American History 78(4), p. 1347-1376.

Erin Brockovich. Dir. Steven Soderbergh. Perf. Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, David

Brisbin. Jersey Films. Universal Pictures. Columbia Pictures. 2000.

About Colin Knight

I am a junior at Davidson College with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish. In regards to environmental politics, I am specifically interested in renewable energies and sustainable development.

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