Both of these movies clearly have something to say about the concept of the American Dream and the way that people choose to live their lives. American History X is a much darker film that explores the many and varied ways that we are taught to hate. Stereotypes, prejudices, and racism are so much a part of everyday life that we are literally taught these things at the dinner table. Crash, on the other hand, shows a myriad of Americans trying to live their lives. Some of them are good and some are bad, but all are capable of change.
What the viewer ultimately learns is that the American Dream as most of us think of it is unachievable to most, and that things are rarely what they seem. To begin with, American History X is a movie about prejudices and racism. It has been called “the visceral meditation on American bigotry” by Popular Culture magazine (Turczyn) This family at the beginning seems to be living the American Dream. They have a nice house in the suburbs, a beautiful mom, a firefighter dad, and four children. They sit down together at the dinner table to eat and talk. However, there are problems lurking.
Dad is very racist as he demonstrates in his little spiel, and it is clear to the viewer that being open-minded is not a plus in this family. Dad wants his boys to think the way he does. When dad is then killed in the line of duty and by a black man, this clears the way for Derek to become recruited by the vulture named Cameron. Cameron preys on weak kids like this so that he can bring them into the white power movement. From there, the family begins to deteriorate and continues until Derek is released from prison. Their living arrangement is quite dismal.
Mom is sickly. Derek has seen the light in prison so to speak and begins to turn his life around. The dinner conversation is really the pivotal place where the viewer can see the kind of intolerance that Derek and Danny are taught by their father, who by all counts is a nice guy. Derek and his father discuss affirmative action and Derek’s teacher Sweeney. DENNIS: I’ll tell you one more thing. This “affirmative blaction” shit is driving me up the fucking wall. Firefighters gettin’ 99’s on their tests while rappers who score a goddamn 62 walk away with the job.
Dennis then talks about all the classic books that have been replaced by “black” books. Even though Derek is very enthused by his teacher, his father warns him not to fall for the “nigger bullshit. ” This conversation takes place around the dinner table to a kid who completely idolizes his father. What his father is teaching him here is incredible. He is teaching hate at the dinner table quite literally. Director David McKenna explains clearly in an interview what he was trying to do with the movie.
“”I saw a lot of bigotry growing up, and it made me think about writing something about the world of hate-mongers. The point I tried to make in the script is that a person is not born a racist. It is learned through environment and the people that surround you,” says McKenna. “The question that intrigued me is: why do people hate and how does one go about changing that? My premise was that hate starts in the family (McKenna). This family who seems to have the American Dream by the tail before their father Dennis dies, in fact, does not. And things get progressively worse after his death.
In one of Derek’s speeches to recruit others to his white supremacy, he says: On the Statue of Liberty it says: “Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor. ” Well, it’s Americans who are tired and hungry and poor. And I say, until you take care of that, close the fucking book. ‘Cause we’re losing. We’re losing our rights to pursue our destiny. We’re losing our freedom. So that a bunch of fucking foreigners can come in here and exploit our country. And this isn’t something that’s going on far away. This isn’t something that’s happening places we can’t do anything about it.
It’s happening right here, right in our neighborhood, right in that building behind you” (McKenna). This speech clearly shows Derek’s view of his fellow Americans and the possibility of the American Dream for all. He is making broad generalizations about our country and people that are just plain false. However, they are arguments which a lot of people believe, which is why they work so well. McKenna clearly criticizes these viewpoints that people share. The symbol that he uses for hatred is the swastika, which becomes a twisted sort of cross once Derek gets out of prison.
This film also shows how people tend to look at things in black and white. Derek’s world is black and white during everything leading up to prison and the film is done in black and white. After he undergoes his transformation in prison of seeing people for individuals, the film becomes color as Derek’s world becomes color. His world becomes, in many ways, a lot less clear, a lot messier but better. The movie Crash, on the other hand, is much broader in its focus. Crash is a series of short vignettes that all intersect at some crucial point in order to make the viewer question his/her beliefs.
Crash is about the lack of human love that we show to each other. As Graham sums up at the beginning of the film, “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L. A. , nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something” (Crash). In America, with the same kind of racism shown in American History X, Americans are more likely to do harm to others than to do good.
People are not always what they appear to be. As in American History X, the conversation at the dinner table shocks the viewer because we do not expect that kind of hate to spew from the mouth of a fireman; we are also shocked by the characters in Crash. However, Crash is more about understanding. In American History X, Derek finally comes to understand the world. Unfortunately, by the time he does and begins to make amends, his brother Danny has to die. Some acts we simply cannot take back. Crash shows us that we can all change our ways and find redemption.
Even when the viewer hates the character, the film takes us closer to help us understand why the character might have done what he/she did. The film provides us a glimpse in order to achieve empathy. “Haggis wants to tell us that racial conflict is always bubbling beneath the surface of contemporary Los Angeles—not a new thought, since we’ve learned that in everything from the Rodney King trial to the fiction of Walter Mosley. (ny magazine) Empathy and redemption are the main themes of the film. In some cases, the viewer’s stereotypes are proven true as in the case of this dialogue.
Anthony: Look around! You couldn’t find a whiter, safer or better lit part of this city. But this white woman sees two black guys, who look like UCLA students, strolling down the sidewalk and her reaction is blind fear. I mean, look at us! Are we dressed like gangbangers? Do we look threatening? No. Fact, if anybody should be scared, it’s us: the only two black faces surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people, patrolled by the triggerhappy LAPD. So, why aren’t we scared? Peter: Because we have guns? Anthony: You could be right.
However, later in the film, Anthony returns a group of Thai people rather than sell them into slavery, which shows us that redemption is possible. Everyone has prejudice. This is clearly shown in Crash. As demonstrated in the following interaction where a black man is talking to his Puerto Rican girlfriend. Ria: You want a lesson? I’ll give you a lesson. How ’bout a geography lesson? My father’s from Puerto Rico. My mother’s from El Salvador. Neither one of those is Mexico. Graham: Ah. Well then I guess the big mystery is, who gathered all those remarkably different cultures together and taught them all how to park their cars on their lawns?
As Steve Wessler says, “Even though such attitudes reside beneath the surface, they have the potential to bubble up–and progress from there. “Stereotypes are not static,” says Steve Wessler, who founded the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence after heading, for most of the 1990s, the Civil Rights Unit in the attorney general’s office in Maine. “If you’re stereotyping a person of color in negative ways and not thinking of him or her as an individual, it makes it much easier to treat that person poorly.
I don’t think that I investigated a hate crime at a school that did not begin with the lower level of slurs and stereotypes and then escalated” (Don’t Race) Crash certainly shows the viewer all aspects of the American dream from characters that are rich and miserable to those who are family-oriented and poor. If anything, it makes the reader question what the American dream really is and who is living it. The movie explores race, ethnicity and gender very well. These characters over and over again show us that life is not always what it appears to be.
Everyone does good, and everyone does bad. Each one of us has both qualities inside of us and displays them at various points of our lives. Every person, no matter what he or she has done, is capable of love and redemption. This is what it should mean to be American. Works Cited Don’t Race to Judgment, http://health. usnews. com/usnews/health/articles/051226/26spirit. race. htm This article provides some really interesting connections to real life. Hollywood Jesus. Interview with David McKenna. Retrieved August 18, 2007 at http://www. hollywoodjesus.
com/american_history_x. htm This site contains some very intriguing commentary about the movie and the symbols in it, complete with pictures explaining each stage Derek goes through. It also contains an interview with director David McKenna. McKenna, David. American History X. http://www. generationterrorists. com/quotes/american_history_x. shtml This site contains a wealth of information about the movie and quotes from it. Memorable Quotes for American History X http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0120586/quotes This web site contains a wealth of quotes from the movie itself.
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