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Group-belonging is a need
for all humans and especially the youth. However, not all groups prove to be
beneficial for their members and the society as a whole. In fact, some groups
nurture extreme ideologies that can create a huge turmoil in people’s lives!

 

Appearing in 1998 and shot
in America this movie’s worth is timeless and spaceless. “American History X” contains themes such as migration, racism,
neo-nazism, conformism, gangs and criminality, rehabilitation that can relate
to our current societies as well. Not only books can help you learn and think.
Actually, this movie can be of a high educational benefit to students as it
touches issues of History, Politics, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy and it
does this by depicting sensitive aspects of reality. The most important lesson
that we can generally derive from this movie, in my opinion, is that nothing is
one sided and we have to consider things from many different angles to avoid
reaching extreme conclusions. Unfortunately, when the main character of the
story, Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton), realizes that he wrongly belonged in
that gang performing racist actions it is too late as he has to experience a
great loss.

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Although the story is not
organized chronologically it is easy to follow and understand as events are
basically joined with cause and effect. The flashbacks are frequent in the
movie and past events appear in black and white wisely increasing its dramatic feeling.
The past gives meaning to the present and it explains gradually how a chain of
incidents have formed the characters and led them to be the way they are. The
black and white parts are narrated by Danny (Edward
Furlong), Derek’s younger brother, who does this through writing a history
paper for his school principal. Dr. Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks), Danny’s
principal, plays an important role in the movie as the two siblings’ mentor.
But is it just Sweeney’s help that leads Derek to alter his worldview and his
behavior?

 

Surely not! Derek’s prison
experiences also added to his transformation. The night that Derek gets caught
both appears in the beginning and in the middle of the story and it is not difficult
to see why it has such significance. In the first place it has stigmatized
Danny’s life and better put in his own words “I go back to that night again and
again in my mind”…”I try to stop it from happening”. To tell you the truth it
also had a huge effect on me when I saw the movie for the first time. Norton
gives such a performance that I can replay the scene when he gets caught very
vividly in my memory. His eyes sparkling of rage…his expression declaring
immense satisfaction for his actions. The scene goes slowly at that part and
this technique being common in the movie I would say that it perfectly sticks
to its dramatic genre.

 

We have seen other movies
dealing with the same themes but I can distinguish this one for its powerful
direction, its convincing cast and its unpredictable end. Tony Kaye creates a
visual depiction of the script that I could have imagined it no better. We
cannot foresee next steps in the movie but if you are suspicious enough you
will probably focus on some hints (?) that can guide you. I remember the hand
of the policeman so beautifully hiding the swastika tattoo on Derek’s chest
when he held him the night he was arrested. Did this say anything to me? At
that moment not really, but later on when Derek puts his own hand and tries to
make the swastika disappear from his view in the mirror after he says that he
is out of the gang I reconsider the moment with the policeman. Maybe it was a
message, a hint that Derek would eventually change his ideology. After all, I
don’t think that this could have been just by chance in a movie so
intelligently connecting pieces to a memorable puzzle of scenes.

 

One more characteristic of
the movie that I would like to point out is its artistic but not less logic
oriented side in the usage of symbols. Water is used a lot in the movie. The
appearance of the ocean, the running water when Derek takes a bath…I find its
usage quite meaningful. Water can symbolize different things and one is purity.
Purity in a film full of violence. How contrasting and how ironic this might
be.  We see tenderness in many parts.
Derek’s mother Doris Vineyard (Beverly D’Angelo) is a source of kindness
and affection. Was it she who brought up her sons is such a way that awakened
their feelings of hatred and anger and what role had the father’s presence
played in their upbringing before he died? The youth search sometimes for role
models and in Derek’s case there were various personalities affecting him
including Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) the leader of the racist group. Actually,
Derek himself is a role model for Danny who tries to follow his older brother’s
steps.

 

I believe that we cannot
very easily come across equally strong movies in the effect that they create to
the audience. It is a movie that can feed you both mentally and emotionally
with question marks around human behavior (can we really change?) if you are
interested in psychology or numerous other study areas. The movie provides
useful tools for you to discover or (why not?) invent meanings and messages and
you can attempt to pass some of them in our today world which still faces some
similar issues. Be open-minded, brave for the tough scenes and place this piece
of art in your list of worth-to-see movies as it deserves it!

 

 

 

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