Public libraries are set apart from other institutions. They are places where people gather to connect with each other, share ideas and dialogue across lines of religion, gender, ethnicity, and age. Libraries are democratic, safe, and yes, even sacred spaces, providing many free-of-charge services to a community through public funding.
The Public is a film about the public in a library. As with a previous film, The Way, screenwriter, director and lead actor, Emilio Estevez had a story he wanted to tell.
The story is simple. Head librarian, Stuart Goodson, played by Estevez himself, is on friendly and first-name terms with all the library regulars, including the homeless who come to use the bathroom, find some warmth, and take time to read and meet with one another in this public space.
On one particular night, the temperature drops suddenly, shelters are full, and the group of homeless decides to ask Goodson if they might stay for the night. The ask quickly becomes a refusal to leave as Goodson finds himself supporting those who seek shelter.
The Public is effectively shot on location in the Cincinnati Public Library. Estevez gathers strength from the cast in Michael Kenneth Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Alec Baldwin, and Jena Malone, who all give excellent performances. The homeless people, as well as those who meet to negotiate and break the lockdown, are all stereotypes and yet in the casting are many surprises.
In The Public, the library is a metaphor for cities, schools, churches, and all public spaces. The film holds humor and the seriousness of the issues in tension, even as Estevez invites the viewer to consider the present political climate. An excellent film group movie that begs discussion about the issues of homelessness, law enforcement, and civil disobedience.
PG-13 rating because of content, language, and nudity albeit appropriate to the context. (Amazon Prime)