The 2009 film, 8 Mile, parallels the true life story of multi-platinum artist, Eminem. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the film takes place in 1995, a time where hip-hop music was growing and Detroit, Michigan had hit an all time low. Eminem (formally referred to as Marshall Mathers) plays Jimmy, a wannabe rapper from the poor side of Detroit and stars like Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger, and Mekhi Phifer all play key roles in the film. The film follows the lyrically talented Jimmy, also known as Rabbit by his friends, and his struggle to become a white rapper in a predominately black field. He also struggles with dealing with his alcoholic mother, poor social status, and his rival gang who call themselves “The Free World” (8 Mile, Wikipedia.com). The film effectively portrays the rap competition in Detroit and Jimmy’s fight to be on top. 8 Mile’s urban tale raises questions about stereotypes, class separation, and segregation, while gaining the viewers respect for hip-hop music and successfully developing characters and using real life matters to reproduce a true story.
The film begins with Jimmy Smith (Eminem), a young and unhappy blue-collar worker from a poor family, struggling with different aspects of his life. He has moved back north of 8 Mile Road to the rundown trailer home in Detroit, Michigan of his alcoholic mother, Stephanie (Kim Basinger), his little sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield), and Stephanie’s abusive live-in boyfriend Greg (Michael Shannon). Jimmy is focused on getting his music career started, but he seems unable to catch a break. Jimmy comes to realize that his life has remained largely the same since he graduated high school. (“8 Mile”, rottentomatoes.com) At first, he considers himself a victim of his circumstances and blames others for his problems. Over time, though, Jimmy begins to take more responsibility for the direction of his life.
His newly established relationship with Alex (played by Brittany Murphy) ends when Jimmy walks in on his friend Wink (Eugene Byrd) having sex with her. Jimmy beats up Wink, which later causes Wink to join forces with Jimmy’s enemies, a gang of rappers known as the Leaders of the Free World. Later, Wink and the Free World gang jump him outside of his mother’s trailer, but when one member pulls a gun on Jimmy, Wink stops him and they leave. Jimmy’s
friends have hailed him throughout the film as an incredible rapper, and his friend Future (Mekhi Phifer) puts pressure on Jimmy to get his revenge by competing against the Leaders of the Free World at the next rap battle. (“8 Mile”, wikipedia.com) The battle acts as a “final conflict” with the Leaders of the Free World gang who have harassed Jimmy throughout the film. It has three rounds, and in each of them Jimmy confronts a member of the gang. Jimmy wins both of the first two rounds and in the last round, he is paired against Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie), the tournament’s most feared battler and Jimmy’s main antagonist throughout the film. Jimmy is aware that Doc knows all his weak points, so he decides to address them with his freestyle.
Jimmy acknowledges without shame his lower-class white trash roots and the humiliations the Free World gang have inflicted on him, and then uses the difficult life he has had as basis to reveal the truth about Papa Doc. With little to say in rebuttal, Papa Doc gives the microphone back to Future and Jimmy wins the battle. As Jimmy leaves the venue, Future suggests that he stay and celebrate his victory while also offering a position that would allow him to host battles at The Shelter. Jimmy turns him down, claiming he has to get back to work and to find success his own way. He then starts walking back to work, feeling more confident about his future. (“8 Mile”, wikipedia.com) The movie is titled after a main street in Michigan, 8 Mile road. 8 Mile Road has carried major cultural significance; it has served as a physical and cultural dividing line between the wealthier, predominantly white northern suburbs of Detroit and the poorer, predominantly black city (“Michigan highway”). The road plays a major part in the film and is the reason for the two different rap crews. One rap group, “Three One-Third” is the one that Jimmy and his friends, Dr. Iz, Cheddar Bob, Future and Sol are a part of. Their group name is a representation of the slums they live in, with their area code being 313. Most of them are black, have old cars and live in run down homes. Jimmy lives in a trailer park with his alcoholic mother, and is often stereotyped as “white trash”. Throughout the movie the characters reference the road to one another aware of its cultural meaning. Jimmy raps about it repeating in one of his freestyles, repeating, “Everybody from the 313 put your motherf***ing hands up and follow me” (“The 10 Most Memorable Rap Lines From ‘8 Mile”) He also raps; “I’m gonna turn around with a great smile, and walk
my white ass back across 8 Mile” (“8 mile lyrics”).
The Free World, the second group in the film, lives on the northern side of 8 Mile. They are part of a middle class Detroit and their crew includes Papa Doc, Wink, Lyckity Splyt, and Lotto. They own guns, dress better, and have more control over the Detroit area due to their higher social status. They have the upper hand in the hip-hop “game” and are convinced they have the better connections and are gonna make it before Rabbit does. Papa Doc even owns an Escalade in which they all pull up in when going to beat up Rabbit, proving they are the antagonist in the film. 8 Mile is not only the title of the film but also the racial boundary that sets imaginary lines in class separation in the movie and in Detroit today.
The notorious road is not the only racial dispute in the film. Rabbit struggles multiple times throughout the movie simply because he is white. In the opening scene, you see Rabbit in a club bathroom preparing to rap battle. As he leaves the bathroom he passes the bouncer to proceed backstage. He quickly gets stopped by the bouncer and the large black man asks “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” Rabbit looks startled and begins to argue, claiming that the bouncer had just seen him leave to go the bathroom. When the
bouncer replies, “I didn’t see nothin’” Rabbit gets worked up and screams “Man, you just fuckin’ seen me! I just went to the bathroom!” He continues to fight with the bouncer and is not let in until his black friend, Future, who is respected in the Detroit area, grabs him and lets the bouncer know that “he’s cool”. (“8 mile”, imbd.com) When Rabbit goes to rap, the camera focuses on him, then on the crowd where viewers take a mental note of the all black mob he is about to rap to. When the camera focuses back Rabbit, he looks nervous, chokes and walks off stage. This scene really portrays how difficult it is for Rabbit to overcome his disadvantage of being white in, what it seems to be, an all black competition. The opening scene makes Rabbit seem like a scared white boy, fearful of the judgement of the blacks, but as the movie continues, Rabbits character grows and becomes less afraid. Not only do you see Rabbit becoming less fearful, but he also reveals his soft spot for children. After Rabbit flees from the rap battle, he goes back to live with his mother since he recently broke up with his girlfriend whom he lived with. Once he meets his mother’s new boyfriend, they get into a verbal argument where Jimmy throws a beer bottle at him. The argument wakes up Jimmy’s little sister, Lily.
Once Lily comes out, even the tone of Rabbit’s voice changes. He becomes higher pitched and looks at her with a softness in his eyes, and when requested to sing her to sleep, he does so, singing to her a song he comes up with on the spot. This scene illustrates the complexity of Jimmy’s character and shows that he is more than just a ‘white trash rapper’. Another key moment in the film that shows Rabbit growing as a person is a work scene. When Rabbit’s car breaks down, he’s late to work and upon questioning, Rabbit quickly says its not his fault. A few scenes later, when another on the job dispute happens, he stops himself from saying that it wasn’t his fault and assures his boss that it won’t happen again. The audience can realize that Rabbit is maturing and taking responsibility for his actions. Another intricate character is Rabbit’s friend, Dr. Iz. Although his do-rag and large clothing say otherwise, he is a complex character who often looks deeply into things. He says when looking around the city, “Man, do you know how many abandoned buildings we have in Detroit?
I mean, how are you supposed to take pride in your neighborhood with shit like that next door? And does the city tear them down? No, they too busy building casinos and taking money from the people.” When his friends make it clear that they don’t care he says, “Did you care when that crackhead raped that little girl? You think that woulda’ happened if he didn’t have an abandoned house to take her to (“8 Mile Quotes”)?”. He convinces Rabbit to help them burn down the building by evoking feelings of sympathy and saying “It could have been Lily”. Jimmy’s quick urge to help shows the compassion that Jimmy has for his sister and how Dr. Iz and the friends who helped burn the house down believe in what’s right, have morals, and wanted to erase the memory of a helpless girl getting raped.
The actors in the film act tremendously well. Eminems portrayal of Jimmy was simple for him to perform considering the character is based on himself. Although the raps are scripted, Eminem delivers them with such strength. The veins in his arm pop out as he raps and his eyes bulge out of his head, truly showing his passion for rap music. The way Kim Basinger takes the role as an alcohol dependent and emotionally unstable is brilliant. She carries out her lines with a shaky, uncertain undertone that truly brings out how emotionally unsure she is. Brittany Murphy plays a seductive and sassy young adult seeking to be a model. She administers her lines with her head slightly down and her big eyes looking up. She shakes her head often and almost seems to be on drugs, but it works for her character. Overall, I think the acting was well done, but not too impressive considering the roles they played weren’t impossibly hard.
The music choice in this film is another aspect to take note of. The song opens up with “The Shook Ones” by Mobb Deep. The famous line in the song, “Cause ain’t no such thing as a halfway crook” is played while Jimmy gets ready to rap, and in his final freestyle that line is used again, but by Jimmy this time. Whenever you see Jimmy coming up with lyrics, the instrumental beat comes on and only the words that he is rhyming are heard. While he is in the car with his friends, Biggie Small’s “Juicy” is playing. The song is an iconic tune that comes to mind when one thinks about rap music. I also believe it is foreshadowing that like Biggie, Jimmy will also become a legend in the hip-hop industry. When Rabbit is getting beat up by The Free World members, the song “Gang Stories” by South Central Cartel is playing which has a specific line “don’t be another sucker on my hit list” and Jimmy was definitely on the Free World’s hit list. The music in the movie really adds on the the hip hop, gangster vibe of the film, and enhances its effectiveness to show what 1995 Detroit was like.
Although the movie reviewing website, Rottentomatoes.com only rated the movie a 6.7/10, I would rate the film a 10. I believe that the actors were very into their characters and all of their roles were extremely believable. The scenery is not staged and was actually filmed right on 8 Mile, furthering the movies credibility. I also believe the music choice magnifies the movie’s energy. The film rids itself of subplots and complexities, making it a light film to watch, even though its urban and inner city settings weigh it down. I think people who rate it any lower than a seven out of ten lack an ability to see the artistic side of the film and expect it to be grander, when in reality the movie was not created with intent to be criticized, or make millions. (“8 mile” chicagoreader.com). Rather, the film was created to give viewers a deeper insight into what Grammy award winning rapper, Eminem, had to overcome to become the amazing artist he is now and although some may not have received a deeper understanding of the life of a wannabe rapper, I certainly did.
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