American History X

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Who bought it? Max did, in his previously mentioned Edward Norton Phase.

Why? I liked this movie a lot when I bought it (that will usually be the “Why?” answer when it comes to the DVD’s that are mine).

Non-buyer’s response: Every time American History X is brought up Max gives me a sidelong glance with a creepy grin which makes me believe I will not enjoy this experience.

Max’s Thoughts: I was talking about this last night with Matt Hamilton, who writes The Actress Diaries with Megan and I. American History X has to be an auto-keep, right? Initially this was my thinking. It has the timeless curb-stomping scene (timeless in that it makes me as queasy today as it did when I was 13), the solid performances of Ethan Suplee, Avery Brooks, Chevy Chase’s wife from Christmas Vacation and the Edwards Norton and Furlong. It also has the least realistic dunk in the history of basketball in movies. 

A number of times during American History X, Megan turned to me and asked “How do you like this movie?” Sure, there is a ton of Neo-Nazi rhetoric and hate-speech spoken by the characters therein, but I do not think the movie itself endorses this rhetoric. However, she has a point. This is a movie about racism whose only named black characters are Dr. Robert Sweeney (Brooks) and Guy Torry’s prison underwear-folder, Lamont. It’s a movie about racism focusing on the racist white people. Is that problematic? Maybe. When there’s seemingly 30 total minutes of straight up white power speeches and almost no black voices to balance that out, it just might be.

But I think what always appealed to me about this movie was the fact that (spoilers) Derek Vineyard (Norton) somewhat redeems himself and changes course regarding his opinion of non-white protestants. I always felt my parents saw socio-political issues in black and white terms. You’re either actively for the cause of equal rights for gays or against it. You’re either outspoken against racism or you’re just not helping anything. I always felt like they felt they knew everything there was to know about the people they disagreed with along the political spectrum.

Derek Vineyard’s end shows us you can’t just see a giant swastika tattoo and assume you know everything. A man can’t be judged by the dumb metaphorical tattoos he got when he was young.

No matter how dumb those tattoos might be.

No matter how dumb those tattoos might be.

It’s slow and sloppy at times, but the acting still carries it through. And the nostalgia I have for this flick. Nostalgia-based KEEP IT!

Megan’s Thoughts: I want to delve into a very poignant and smart paragraph or two about why I didn’t like the movie but the fact is: it’s just not my jam. As Max mentioned, several times throughout the movie (normally right after they’d had a Hitler-loving moment) I would turn to Max, so full of confusion, questioning why he would want to watch this movie, let alone own it.

I will never watch this movie again. I did not enjoy it. I did not find it entertaining. I didn’t learn anything about filmmaking or writing from it. I actively hid from this movie at times, shielding my face.

It’s not because the movie was poorly made or didn’t have talent behind it, quite the contrary. It’s just not what I look for in a film. I don’t consider myself that “girly” or “squeamish” but I guess I do draw a line around curb-stomping, rape and just…so much racism. I was impressed at how emotional the film made me, the anger boiling up inside me as I watched, and I do agree with Max’s point that it has a moment where you realize you can’t judge a person by their giant swastika tattoo. But all that said, I respectfully decline keeping it in our collection. It’s a toss for me.

Verdict: keep.

 

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