Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American History X

I just finished watching "American History X" and I really liked the movie and the sentiments and thoughts it raises. For those of you who have not watched this movie, Ed Norton plays a skin head who in the process of doing time in prison for a racially motivated crime, sees the error of his ways and tries to keep his younger brother clean.

Some quick cons - the movie's screenplay is way too rushed and this hurry to cover so much ground in so little time leaves many rather crucial areas with little or no attention or time. Though the characters are well defined, their development seems jumpy and choppy for the same reason. The lack of character development forces you to take for granted Ed Norton's hate for blacks and for his white supremacist tendencies while a sense of how this came about would have set the nuances of what comes later in the movie in better light. Yes, we are presented with factual account of two such incidents and are left to ourselves to make the connections, if there is one. Norton's character comes across as being high intelligent and one who makes compelling arguments about immigrants and their impact on the crime rate in a manner that would make Lou Dobbs proud. I am not sure if this was intentional on the part of the directors but he never meets an adversary who counters his arguments with sound logic eschewing a centrist or even slightly liberal position. The reasons for this might be many and might also be intended to explain Norton's long association with far right supremacists. The film is emotional and suggests that hate is just extra baggage - it wears you down and brings none of the change that you hoped for. It also depicts how hate divides society on racial lines simply because of how society is structured to think about race and how this hate in combination with racial leanings result in horrific hate crimes with violence being a constant theme. In the end, people commit crimes because of who they are as persons - their personal character traits, their circumstances and their psychological makeup and not because they belong to a particular race or class of people. Though this membership has some affect, however little, on how that person thinks and behaves (hence, racial stereo typing), it is hardly reflective of the common characteristics of the entire race of people.

Another interesting aspect of the movie is its abuse of Nazi symbols to keep up an undercurrent of white supremacy. I do not know if this a peculiarity of the movie or if this is a characteristic of white power groups, but Hitler's shadow is all over this movie. I am not sure if white power groups realize that Hitler's race theories were not solely about white power. In fact, how many of his victims were black, brown or yellow specifically because they were black, brown or yellow? After being assuaged with various posters, memorabilia and music throughout the movie I was left to ponder on whether Hitler was really understood or was just being used as a seed for racially stereotyping white supremacists.

All in all, a powerfully emotional movie. Please do watch if you get a chance.

P.S - did I forget to mention that the kid from the Terminator 2 movie plays Ed Norton's brother?

Update: I was intrigued by the adoption of Hitler as the poster child for white power when he hardly stood for it, though in his plans non-whites shared the same fate as other groups that he targeted. Well given that he did not particularly target non-white races, I find it astonishing that eastern Europe particularly Poland and the Slavic states are hotbeds for neo-nazism. These were the people who were one of the most severely oppressed by Hitler and now they adopt him as their savior and have somehow converted his ideology to that of white supremacy. What gives?


Tejaswi said...

Powerful, yes - but even I felt that the movie was very incomplete. The prison realization came too fast. Norton's character, intelligent and articulate that he is, must have not generalized what he saw/felt in prison. Those might just be some jerks who did not really believe in the theory. That's just one aspect which was left incomplete. Same with his family, the brother, the father-figure-leader-dude, and almost everybody is left mid-way.

Powerful, but incomplete. I still loved it though.

EmperorFrost said...

I totally agree that the prison realization came too fast and in too frivolous a manner - talking about sex made the black guy seem more human? The portrayal of Norton's character as an intelligent guy seems awry in the wake of the manner of his realization - it took a guy talking about sex rather than any other intellectual (Sweeney perhaps?).

I agree with your other points too. It could have been so much more if the screenplay was paced better and concentrated on character development rather than pushing out events at a breakneck speed.