American History X (1998)
My earliest memory of American History X (1998) was when I was very young, a black and white film that was anything but pleasant on the eye or the ear. I think I was about ten at the time, I really can’t remember. What I do remember was the strong Nazi themes, the skin heads and the strong language and the level of violence which to be honest scared me. I was young at the time. Now is a very different story, I understand that the film is about Neo-Nazism in an American town, focusing on one family which has seen two members radicalized by a manipulative figure. On the language front the amount of effing and blinding I became more numb to, something which has only happened before with any of Martin Scorsese‘s film’s, especially The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). My understand now is only just the beginning of a very thought-provoking film that tries to understand the then state of America’s immigration problem. A film that has taken on even greater meaning in the U.K. as the immigration borders have been busted wide open, with more member states joining the E.U. it seems our own small borders are fit to burst. The country cannot cope with the demand, the public wants change and the political elite are playing on these emotion as we build up to this years general election.
Going back to late nineties America we find a black and white world, at first gland all is calm looking out at the sea before we cut to a suburban America, two African American’s have pulled up to steal Derek Vinyard’s (Edward Norton) car, we don’t know why, apart from the Nazi paraphernalia that adorns the inside of his bedroom. They don’t stand a chance, even with armed against the angry Derek who shoots them down with cold accuracy. The height of his power and drive fuelled by an ignorance for the immigrant population that live in the community.
Jump forward three years after that night we find the younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong), now also a skin-head, indoctrinated by the same hatred that lead astray from any rational thinking about society. Handing in homework that no other student would ever dare try, based on Hitler’s Mien Kampf, concerning Dr. Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks) who decides to not throw away and forget about this possible lost cause, taking Danny under his wing. Giving him and the audience a way into this horrible and controversial world of Neo-Nazism that within three years has grown in strength, becoming and organised group that are ready and more hungry to take on anyone who isn’t white.
It’s disturbing to hear these conversations going on that could easily fall into being out-right offensive at times, handled with intelligence we get a balanced debate, with an emphasis on being able to think for yourself, not being lead to believe a particular belief systems without the ability to question and test its ideals and principles, essentially to think independently. We see a number of figures from difference of the ons-screen debate, the family caught in the middle, the victims of the racism and the followers who have been brainwashed effectively, or dare I say radicalised. Something we see more so in the Middle East today, even as close as Paris today.
Photographed in both black and white and colour, I only remember the black and white sequences, before turning off after the shop-raid, the images then were too powerful for the unaware mind. They still are quite strong, having no colour in the image we only see the act, the pain that is inflicted, stripped back and raw. Where there is brutal acts they are beautifully captured, to blur them would loose the rawness of the moment. A choice that breaks up the past and the present in even balance we eventually need the colour to seen the final blow delivered, bringing us out of the past into the present day.
Our society is not as picturesque as we like to image, after we leave the safety of our own street we become more aware of others who live among us. My home town and city has changed over the last few years, more multicultural than before, all for the better we are told. Jobs and services are fought over, crime effects others. It’s too easy to simply brush one ethnic group with the same brush, without understand their circumstances. Something that radicalised people forget, thinking only of how their lives can be made better, by scaring and inflicting pain and suffering on others. American History X aims to confront the our perceptions of society to look at the marginalised in a different light, not just as mindless thugs who attack those who are different. To try and show them up, to question their thinking and the effect they have. They are still immigration problems in America as Mexicans still try to cross the border illegally, in hopes of finding their own American dream. The same is happening at French ports as immigrate try to jump into lorries and cars before they leave for the U.K. The film is almost 20 years old and still has great effect and relevance today, it’s a scary thought really.
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