When I saw that Metal Mummy had chosen the theme ‘Black and White’, I knew exactly which film to write about. The film I have chosen fits in with the theme perfectly, because as well as using black and white scenes to illustrate flashbacks in the story, it has a strong theme of racism. Yes readers, the film I have chosen is:
The first time I saw this film, I was about 15, and I hated it. I was going through a particularly self-righteous period of my life, and whilst I still abhor anything to do with intolerance of another because of their race/sexuality/disabilities/choices, at the time I was rather more vocal about my feelings, and stopped watching the film halfway through, not being able to get past what I saw as a racist message permeating through the plot.
If I had watched the film all the way through, with a bit more understanding and maturity, I would have understood that this film actually gives a strong anti-racism message, which, whilst being central to the plot, is given in a thoughtful and measured way. It also helps that Edward Norton is one of the finest actors of our time and gives, what I think, was the strongest performance of his entire career.
The story centres around Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) a mal-adjusted teenager, whose brother Derek (Edward Norton) is about to be released from prison for murder. As the story goes along, we find out that Danny and Derek’s father had been killed whilst performing his job as a firefighter, attempting to put out a fire in a Compton drug den, leaving Derek extremely disillusioned and vulnerable. It’s at this point that he’s sucked in by Cam, a Neo-Nazi who prays on disenfranchised young men and women, and poisons their minds with racist propaganda.
I won’t give you the whole story line, but between stellar performances from Norton, Furlong, Elliot Gould and a young Ethan Suplee, to the incredible cinematography and the direction from Tony Kaye (although he tried to have his name removed from the credits as he did not approve of the final cut of he film), American History X is one of the most powerful and evocative films I’ve seen, and the use of black and white adds immeasurably to the whole feel of the film.
Don’t watch if you’re of faint-heart or delicate constitution, but if you aren’t, you must see this movie. It will change the way you think about things. And isn’t that what films are supposed to be for? To challenge our perceptions and make us think? I think so, anyway.