previously published in Ciao
American History X (1998)
American History X is an excellent dramatic portrayal into the mind of a neo-nazi skinhead. Derek Vineyard is a skinhead and a very angry young man. He blames the world for his anger but he hasn’t learned to blame himself. Derek is on a crusade to avenge his father’s death by doing his part to rid the world of ethics especially blacks. With the help of his gang he terrorizes and vandalizes the neighbourhood. Finally he goes too far and is sent to jail for his crimes.
While in jail he gets to see a different slice of life, he sees how his own kind turns on him in a violent rape. He also sees how the people he hated the most, the blacks, were actually the ones who saved him from getting killed while imprisoned.
However, he has not learned enough to save his own family. After he is released he takes his rage out on his family insulting his mother’s boyfriend for being Jewish and assaulting his sister because she does not share his racist views. Derek is unable to channel his anger in an appropriate fashion, nor accept confrontation and for this he will pay the ultimate price. Edward Norton who plays Derek Vineyard gave a commanding performance in this role, which culminated in an Oscar nomination.
Director: Tony Kaye
Genre: Crime, Drama
Derek Vineyard – Edward Norton
Danny Vineyard – Edward Furlong
Dr. Sweeney - Avery Brooks
I have to say that I loved this movie. Though the movie is very violent it also shows the emotional side of skinheads and their family. It shows the joys and pains of each individual. Derek Vineyard is so intelligent yet so full of hate that he himself does not know where it came from. He believes that he hates blacks because his dad, a police officer, was murdered by one. His mother let’s us know that his hatred was instilled in him long before his father died. His father was a racist and pushed his values onto his son. Derek then became an angry young man with no thought or reason despite his intelligence.
I know so many young people today with the same kind of hatred and rage yet they too cannot tell you where it came from. They can only give you an excuse for why they are doing what they are doing and feel totally justified in their actions.
We do see that Norton may have gained some needed insight in prison but not enough to carry him through real life. Not long after he comes home he gets into a fight at the dinner table because people do not happen to share his neo-nazi point of view. He is unable to accept confrontation. He has to be right at all time or else everyone around him pays the consequences.
The one black man that is the saving grace for Derek is Dr. Sweeney, his old high school principal, who just happens to be Derek’s younger brother, Danny’s principle as well. Dr. Sweeney is the only person that I see that Derek respects. As ironic as it is, Dr. Sweeney becomes the father figure to both boys. With Danny his asks him to do a paper on Derek hoping he would get some insight into the actions of his brother and at the same time learn something about himself.
On the other hand, Dr. Sweeney teaches Derek to take responsibility not only for his own life but for role model he has become to his brother. Danny looks up to his big brother and is dangerously following in his footsteps. Sweeney gets Derek to realize that if it is not nipped in the bud, Danny will go down the same road that he did. Only now is Derek finally beginning to understand; only now it is too late.
This movie teaches us several things.
1- Angry people do not always know why they are angry. Most of the time they are just mixed up kids or adults who have never grown up.
2- Lashing out in anger comes from pain. Some people withdraw and become depressed, while others lash out.
3- Angry people have emotions other than anger. They can love but they don’t know how to show it.
4- Even if angry people feel justified with their anti-social actions they must reflect upon what innocent people they hurt along the way. They must look at the fact that they are role models for the people who love them and they must come to terms with the fact that these actions will severely influence, their family and friends whether they intended them to or not.
This movie is a modern day tragedy that is played out in homes across the world in different levels of dysfunction every single day. Emotional pain and violent behavior is often left untreated until it is too late.
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