American History X

American History X poster

You think you’re the only one doin’ time, Derek? You think you’re here all alone? You think I’m not in here with you?!,” spoken by Beverly D’Angelo in Tony Kaye’s 1998 American drama film American History X.

Popcornography learnt a very important lesson this week. What it is you may wonder? The lesson is; despite how many times you watch American History X, it never becomes less disturbing. Re-watching it this past week, only served to bring back all the immense uneasiness that I worked so hard to diminish over the years. The profound and thought provoking film is today’s inspiration for Quote of the Day.

American History X, obviously hits close to home with regard to its strong theme of hate encouraged by racial prejudice. Very few countries can watch a film such as American History X and identify with as strongly as we South Africans do. American History X follows the lives of two brothers residing in Venice Beach in California. Daddy fights fire and dies due to an unfortunate incident involving black drug dealers. The murder of his father, leads Derek (the eldest brother) to become obsessed with the issue of racial prejudice. After Derek, brutally murders two black gang members he is sentenced to three years imprisonment for voluntary manslaughter. The story focuses around Danny, the youngest and impressionable brother, who begins to follow in Derek’s misguided footsteps. The entire Vineyard family’s descent into darkness occurs as a result of the hatred harboured by Derek and Danny. However, during Derek’s imprisonment he establishes an emotional friendship with a black inmate and ultimately learns to relinquish his inherently harboured hatred. Upon his release, Derek struggles to be reintroduced to his family and friends who are trapped in the now overpowering Neo-Nazi movement of Venice Beach. INTENSE stuff.

Edward is angry a lot of the time

The film is shot in a mixture of black and white as well as colour which serves to reiterate the strong themes the film carries. American History X received overwhelmingly favourable reviews and led to an Academy Award nomination for Edward Norton. In my opinion, this is certainly Edward’s most powerful and moving performance. American History X is moving for a number of reasons. Firstly, the inmate whom Derek befriends is the unsung hero of the story and provides much needed comic relief. Additionally, watching the family’s crisis explode is truly unnerving. In particular, Derek’s mother (Doris) gives a heartbreaking performance as she struggles to cope with the nightmare of murderous and imprisoned sons. Poor Doris. I’m sorry Doris. It wasn’t your fault.

Catching up with mama

Despite its profound message, American History X is never preachy but more visceral. Riddled with controversial themes, brutal violence, nudity and profane language, American History X is an awfully difficult experience to endure. So why in the world would you want to suffer through this? Popcornography implores you. Films as powerful as American History X are rare. These films are directorial visions created to challenge their audiences with powerful albeit unpleasant messages. In short, this film will trap you in a glass case of emotion. It is that intense. But don’t be frightened. American History X is spectacular, transcends entertainment and is totally worth it.

To get you through the daunting task of watching American History X, I have prepared a list. I like lists. I call it Popcornography’s guide to surviving American History X. Ahem…

Number 1: Edward Norton is really a nice guy in real life. Well actually I don’t know. But he sure doesn’t kill anyone in Keeping the Faith.

Number 2: In prison, when other people leave the shower that is your cue to ALSO leave the shower. We know this. Sadly, Edward did not know this.

Number 3: There is no defence against the strife of a battered woman. Doris will cry numerous times. It is okay. It is just a movie.

Number 4: The teeth-on-the-curb scene is coming. There is nothing you can do about it. Just embrace it.

Leave the shower Edward…

American History X shower

Get up, Doris 

For more on American History X, check out the trailer! 

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