Cold Mountain, an epic Civil War drama about a soldier named W.P. Inman (Jude Law) who deserts his unit and braves death in a desperate journey to return home to Cold Mountain, NC and his sweetheart, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), who’s struggling and facing starvation in his absence. While the love story between Inman and Ada takes the spotlight, it’s not the only relationship in the film. In fact, despite their deep connection and abiding love for each other, Ada and Iman are only in a handful of scenes together and the majority of their correspondence comes in the form of letters. They speak precious few words to each other throughout the course of the film.
Side note: We need to bring back the art of letter-writing. This old Greg Giraldo bit sums up my feeling on the matter:
Ada and Inman’s love story is certainly tragic and epic, but I’d argue that their relationship actually isn’t the most important one in the film. The real relationship at the heart of Cold Mountain is the one between Ada and Ruby (Renee Zellweger), the salt-of-the-earth woman who enters Ada’s life during her greatest time of need and doesn’t just teach Ada how to survive, but how to thrive.
Let me back up and set the stage for you. The movie begins with Ada and her father, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) moving from bustling Charleston to a quaint farm in the rural town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Ada is a lady of leisure. Her useful skills extend about as far as making tea and playing the piano. She and Inman begin a bashful courtship that’s interrupted when he’s called off to war, but she promises to wait for him. As the war wages on far longer than anyone expected, quality of life in Cold Mountain diminishes rapidly for the residents left behind, especially Ada. Her father dies and she’s left alone, essentially living off the kindness of other town folk who take pity on her and offer what scraps they have so she can survive. Even though she lives on a farm, Ada’s never done a lick of manual labor in her life and doesn’t know the first thing about how to provide for herself. Enter Ruby Thewes.
Ruby is about as rough-and-tumble as they come. She grew up farming, hunting, fishing, etc. You could say that Ruby and Ada come from different worlds. But opposites attract. They start off hating each other but are forced to work together and realize that they need each other. Do you see where I’m going with this yet? While Ruby and Ada’s relationship is strictly a platonic one (Ada keeps her promise to wait for Inman and Ruby finds a man of her own to boss around), their plot follows many traditional “romance” beats as their story arcs from disliking each other right off the bat to eventually loving each other (like sisters).
First things first: the meet-cute. Ruby hops onto Ada’s front porch one day and announces that she’s here because she heard Ada needs help. She’s willing to provide it, but she’s not going to do all the work herself while Ada sits around looking pretty. No ma’am! Ruby expects Ada to put some elbow grease in too. Ada’s not sure what to make of this. She’s tired, hungry, and depressed – plus, one of the stray roosters on her overgrown farm keeps attacking her. Ruby immediately rips the head off said rooster and declares: “Let’s put him in a pot.”
Though she’s wary of Ruby at first, Ada’s desperate and knows she won’t survive much longer on her own, so she lets Ruby stay. Together, they brave the hardship of struggling to endure while the world around you falls apart. Ruby shows Ada what’s in a good day’s work. She teaches her how to grow crops, tend to farm animals, cook, and mend fences. They literally mend a fence together. And in return, Ada teaches Ruby that there’s more to life than just work and even during times of bloody chaos, you can still find beauty in the world. Ruby comes to appreciate the joy of music and Ada teaches her how to read.
When a war-weary Inman finally returns to Cold Mountain after years away and multiple brushes with death, he and Ada are only able to share one night together before he’s tragically killed. Who do you think is there to help Ada pick up the pieces of her broken heart and put her life back together again? One Ruby Thewes!
It’s sad, but there’s a silver lining. As many couples learn the hard way: all it takes is one time! Ada gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, so Inman’s memory and enduring love will live on forever. Ruby marries and starts a family of her own. Years later, in the final scene of the film, everyone celebrates Easter together on the farm that Ruby and Ada built. So in the end, Ruby and Ada even get their happily ever after, just like so many other great love stories.