Waking Up

American History X (1998) by Tony Kaye
Other films by Tony Kaye: Snowblind (2004), Black Water Transit (2009), Detachment (2011)
First saw the film for my Philosophy of Religion class, I believe, but I remember that my attention wasn’t really focused that much on the content rather to the pleasure of just watching the film. This time around, it really had a good effect on me. The content really is heavy and grappling, but what makes it confusing is how it has yet and doesn’t leave an emotional attachment to me whatsoever. Maybe I can appreciate the content of the film but, due to my disposition, just can’t really help not connecting with it. The cinematography was above average and there were numerous scenes that make it stand out. Like the opening scene and when Derek was being arrested. Or the flashback shots of the beach. But majority of the time, you feel a sense of disclosure and claustrophobic reaction to the way the story was presented. You don’t get the feel of being inside a household because of the crowded angles of the scene, nor the feeling of being in a party because of the same reason. These are either a hit or miss from Tony Kaye.


Directing:  A historical opening scene from Danny’s perspective. The slow-motion effect of the scene and the complementary music to back it up makes it a classic

The cinematography has an indie feel to it. However, some of the editing cuts were irrelevant to the whole scheme of things. The grocery scene was intense and the conversation about it over lunch was a good follow for it. Derek’s arguments lacked the foundational evidence for his premises though.

The rape scene was since and thrilling.

Even though I believe the cinematography overachieved, the film could have worked better if it were longer. If the whole 3-year sentence in prison was highlighted even more and not just restricted to when Derek was telling the story of events to his brother. I believe it would benefit the audience and its impact to our perspective if we were allowed to enter more of Derek’s experiences in prison; how his prejudice and biases were moved and shifted, and how the backbone of his passion, which was almost like a religion, changed in there. It might be nice to connect with our anti-hero if all it took to change his perspective was a small connection with the “enemy”

Plot: A neo-nazi who’s extreme views against immigrants, non-white races, and how it gravely affects his lifestyle and the white economy is sent into prison and the reality of the human condition. There he meets what he biased called his “people” and the “enemies” but later finds out that the best person you can truly trust and depend on might be the one you’ve been despising all along. His beliefs and dogmatic prejudiced stance changes and as soon as he is freed, decides to erase his popular culture with the white propaganda and delivers the same internal realizations to his brother, who idolizes him and is on his way to turn out like him as well.

We learn a whole deal about prejudices and racism in this film, not to mention astoundingly the psychological effects of authorities towards the sensitivities of people. It was discreetly told that Derek’s point of view was greatly influenced by his racist father, and when the latter died of murder from a group of black people, this influence grew even deeper. And he was extremely motivated to flourish his growing hatred of thoughts into action when he was viewed as the new spokesperson and leader of the white propaganda. Every person needs an outlet to share their deepest passions, Derek was at the wrong time and place.

“People look at me and see my brother.”

“Has anything you done made your life better?”

“Life is too short to be pissed off.”

Characters/Acting: Norton’s acting never ceases to amaze. Incredible. His monologues were so convincing and critical it seems like he believes the words he speaks himself. And Furlong wasn’t lagging behind as well.

Score: The score that complements the cinematography is astounding that it gives a classical touch to it.

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