Thursday, August 11, 2005

American History X vs. The Believer 

Two movies. Two M.O.'s. One message.

That message is that anti-semitism and racism are bad, a noble and righteous message to be sure. Yet, one film accomplishes the goal better than the other. American History X take the social justice route and also uses a bit of shock value to bring its message of hope and redemption. The story is of Derek Vinyard and his family. Derek, a neo-nazi prodigy with a swastika tattooed on his chest, has been arrested for murder of two black men who are robbing him. While in prison, two things happen. The "joint messes with [his] mind," and his young brother starts following down Derek's path. Told from two time angles, it shows Derek's story as well as his younger brother's story. It is not aimed, I believe, at people who are already inclined to think that racism and anti-semitism are bad, but rather at those folks who might be riding that line. Maybe neo-nazis are, in fact, the intended audience. That seems to me to be why the film makes use of such violence. It's got to leave an impression on the hate-filled and violent people out there. It's got to leave that impression so strongly that they start thinking about changing their ways.

The Believer, on the other hand attacks the question from the religious perspective. It is the story of a young neo-nazi man living in New York City. The trouble is, he is a Jew. Throughout the film, his religious roots begin tugging at him and he finds himself confused. Though he is confused, he continues to carry out violent and hate-filled acts with his gang. But all the time, his understanding of and feelings towards Judaism wax and wane. The film repeats the Genesis 22 story often, and even offers some interesting exegesis. But the reason I don't care for this movie is that, in the end, it takes the tact that anti-semitism is stupid because there is no god, and thus, such hatred is based on a specious distinction at best.

American History X gets the Ryan Whitley two thumbs up, and really is the better movie in this highly specific sub-genre.



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