American History X

                                                           

 

      One in every three black males is in some phase of the correctional system. Is that

       a coincidence or do these people have, you know, like a racial commitment

                     to crime?

 

Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is an extremely bright and charismatic student - however he is drawn into the neo-Nazi underground after his father, a firefighter, is shot and killed by a black drug dealer whilst fighting a fire at a drug den. Derek had already been influenced by his fathers critical views on black culture and affirmative action - and so shocked was he by his father death he launched a tirade of racist language on a tv channel covering the event.

Eventually Derek takes on the mantle of second in command of the venice beach neo-Nazi gang, 'The Disciples of Christ (DOC). This movement encouraged young whitesto join by promising protection from minority gangs, who are effectively in control of the area. it is Derek and the leader of the DOC (Adam Cameron) who take back control of the area, and Alexander uses Derek to recruit other members who have been frustrated at attacks levelled at them by other cultures. The viewer witnesses a DOC attack on a Korean store, led by Derek, who unleashes a hateful speech to his fellow skinheadsblaiming immigrants for the woes of this country. They ransack the shop and attack/humiliate the staff.

O a pivotal day in the film a discussion over diner erupts when it turns to the Rodney King incident and racial relations - a jewish guest Murray (Gould0 and Derek's mother share a liberal view, yet Derek and his girlfriend launch into a racial tirade...and all Dereks younger brother Danny can do is watch. On that same eveing three black men park in front of the Vinyard house and break into Derek's car. His younger brother, Danny, hears them and informs Derek, telling him that a black man was stealing his car. Derek becomes infuriated and seizes a pistol from a nightstand drawer and puts on a pair of combat boots. Derek shoots one of the men, killing him, and wounds a second. The third escapes in their car. Derek kills the wounded man by ordering him to place his mouth on the curb and then stamps on the back of his head, effectively breaking his jaw and neck. Danny watches in horror and witnesses his brother's arrest, who smiles triumphantly at Danny while being handcuffed.

Derek is sentenced to three years in prison, charged with voluntary manslaughter. (Danny notes in his paper, but deletes, that if he had testified, Derek would have been sentenced to life. In custody, he joins the Aryan Brotherhood, for protection. His strong belief system, and his distrust of the politics and favours within the group, soon alienates him from his supposed allies. During his prison stay, his white supremacist gang, angry at many of Derek's actions, proceed to gang rape him during a group shower while the guard on duty turns a blind eye. At the same time he's alienating the Aryan Brotherhood Derek makes the acquaintance of a black inmate named Lamont, with whom he works in the prison laundry room. Although he originally scorns Lamont, he gradually warms to him and after the rape, he sees that Lamont is his only friend and abandons the gang. Just before Derek is released on parole, largely due to his former Honors English teacher Dr. Sweeney vouching for him, he realizes that only through Lamont's intervention did the black prison gangs leave him unharmed. Here we see the major transition of Derek's belief system, the pivotal aspect of this film.

Derek returns home to find that his little brother Danny has modeled his own life like Derek's. In addition to associating with the D.O.C., Danny has written a paper arguing for Hitler as a civil rights hero. His teacher, Murray, wanted to expel him, but now-principal Sweeney felt it would be better to make him write a new paper on the last few years of Derek's life than to turn him loose to the dangers of the streets. Danny reluctantly converts from his old ways after Derek advises about these events and how to write about them.

Derek visits his old neo-Nazi mentor, Cameron Alexander, and informs him that he'll no longer associate with him. He threatens Alexander, warning him to keep away from Danny. The scene ends violently, with Derek beating the man and storming out. The next morning, Danny walks into his high school bathroom with his report, and is fatally shot several times in the chest. The gunman, a black youth, was previously involved in an altercation with Danny, when Danny stood up for a young white male being harassed by the black youth. Derek runs in and embraces his brother's body, crying uncontrollably.

The film ends with shots of the beach at sunset, and Danny reciting the last lines of his essay he was going to turn in, a quote originally said by Abraham Lincoln in his inaugral address. "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." this is without doubt one of the best films I have seen - extremely powerful and insghtful...a must see!!

 

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Movie Script

Directed by Tony Kaye
Produced by John Morrissey
Written by David McKenna
Starring Edward Norton
Edward Furlong
Beverly D'Angelo
Avery Brooks
Stacy Keach
Fairuza Balk
Jennifer Lien
Guy Torry
Elliott Gould
Ethan Suplee
William Russ
Music by  
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date(s) October 30, 1998
Running time 119 min.
Language English
Budget  

 

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