Monday, February 23, 2015

American History X (1998)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

What makes a person look at an entire group of people and decide that those people are inferior simply because they belong to a different group? Ed Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a white man who believes that all other races are inferior. When the movie starts, he’s getting out of jail after serving half of a six-year sentence. He murdered three black men when they attempted to steal his car.

Derek is, or at least was, the poster boy for skinheads in his area. Cameron Alexander runs the local group, but uses Derek as his front man to recruit and organize everyone. Derek is good at it. He has that personality that people seem to want to follow.

Then, three black men try to steal his car. Derek kills all three and is arrested moments later. It’s because of this that Derek comes to realize the errors of his ways. When he sees his younger brother, Danny (played by Edward Furlong), following in his footsteps, Derek knows that he has to do something.

While I highly recommend this movie, I can’t say that it’s for everyone. There are a few scenes that are extremely disturbing, which I’ll go into detail about now. If you don’t want to know what those disturbing details are, here’s your warning. One scene involves a prison rape. Another shows Derek killing a man by stepping on his head. While the scenes don’t necessarily show all of the details, there’s no doubt as to what’s going on.

Not everyone will be able to handle this. Had this movie come out a few years prior to its actual release, I think that the full impact of the message would have been lost on me. I don’t think that I would have been able to get past the violence in the movie and the extreme hate that Derek has.

The movie takes a look not necessarily at why racism is wrong, but where Derek went wrong and where Danny is going wrong. There are many scenes, done in black and white, showing everything that led up to Derek’s release from prison and his change. Eventually, Derek has to come to terms with his beliefs and make a choice.

Danny knows the exact moment when Derek started to buy into racism. It’s hard for Danny to change his attitudes, but he eventually also comes to terms with his own attitudes and begins to really look at what’s going on. Take a look at all of the posters and written propaganda that Danny and Derek have in their rooms. They’ve literally surrounded themselves with hate.

This is a five-star movie. I would say that everyone should watch this movie at some point. (Whether or not everyone will watch it or will like it is another story.) You have to watch it with an open mind.

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