American History X (1998)

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Food: I got the opportunity to try a brunch spot I had never been to called Coco & Cru which serves Australian cuisine. My aunt and uncle both ordered their avocado toast which was good, but it is a bit too thick and needed to be cut up with a large knife. I got the scrambled eggs with salmon which was absolutely amazing. It was really filling, but tasted fresh and light. I also got a cappuccino. Also, the atmosphere is very vibrant and fun.

Film: “American History X” is the dark story of a former Neo-Nazi skinhead who tries to prevent his younger brother from going down the same wrong path that he did. Right off the bat, the film is hard hitting, with writing that does not compromise in the harshness of what it is depicting, and it is fiercely violent.

The film embraces a distinct color scheme, showing scenes that take place in the past are shown in black and white and the present is shown in color, although this technically is not consistent throughout. There are a couple of flashbacks that are also depicted in regular coloration, so it seems to utilize the black and white imagery mainly for the scenes that are loaded with racism. Flipping back and forth between the two visuals is more seamless than it sounds, but it still felt unsuitable. It aged the film to be so over-stylized and ended up feeling cheesy compared to more modern cinema.

Overall, it is a powerful piece about the horrors of hatred, commenting on how racism can be indoctrinated into the psyche of young people and it is difficult to reroute a persons way of thinking. The film opens with an aggressively graphic scene where Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is interrupted mid-coitus to the news that some men are trying to break into his car, prompting him to spring from bed and run outside, gun in tow. The events of that one night will change his life forever. Norton plays this character with unbridled conviction and frightening pungency. He spits every word of hate speech the dialogue asks of him and the dialogue is not shy.

Though, I appreciate the authenticity portrayed here and I am typically a fan of the raw, unflinching tone in films that are diving into something as important as flagrant racism, “American History X” arguably spends too much of its run time hitting you over the head with shock value and less time fleshing out the character arc that is the crux of the story. Ingrained racism is not revised without torment. A more introspective and artful film could have teased out the process in a more convincing manner, that doesn’t rely on making one black friend or having a bad experience with a few white ones. It is simply asking too much of the audience to watch to buy the redemption story here.

At some point, any film has to decipher what story it is trying to tell. Is this even a story about redemption? Is it a story about family? Are we meant to love these characters by the end? Is it about family? One of the missed marks about “American History X” is that it fails to know what it is really trying to say. In the end, hatred does not come without a price, and perhaps, that is all that this story wanted us to understand. There are some films that are hailed because of the impact it had at the time of release, but after a contemporary viewing, it loses its luster. This is one of those. It was historically remain in the conversation, but relies too heavily on emotional manipulation of the audience and tells too sweeping a story that it fails to hold a candle to better cinema.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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