American History X is clearly a film dealing with racism. The interesting thing about this film is the way in which the subject is treated. First of all, it is obvious that, though racism is always a difficult subject to deal with, American History X presents it without any reservations or dumming down. Second, the film's figurehead for racism, Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), is not an unintelligent redneck racist as films often portray them, but is in fact well-spoken, charismatic and intelligent, although he clearly holds ideals that are terribly wrong. Finally, the film shows that it is not just the white, neo-nazi racists who are fools to be involved in this, but all racism is foolish. Through these methods, the film shows the viewer, extremely convincingly, that hatred and racism will destroy a person and those around him.
It is immediately revealed to the audience at the outset of this movie that there will be no holds barred and no playing down the realism of this intense racial hatred. When the film flashes back to the reason for Derek's incarceration, we see Danny wake up his brother to tell him that some black guys are trying to steal or wreck his truck, and Derek immediately jumps out of bed, grabs a gun, and shoots one of them, wounds another and fires at the third as he drives away. Then, in one of the most brutal scenes in film history, Derek forces the remaining, wounded man to put his face on the curb and Derek kicks the back of his head, smashing in the man's skull. This scene is but one where the viewer sees the true horror that is racism. Derek's time in prison shows the results of this terrible way of life, and from the moment he takes off his shirt in the outdoor workout area, revealing his huge swastika tattoo to the other neo-nazi inmates, he becomes involved in another horrible situation, resulting in his being raped in the showers when things go wrong. Perhaps the most tragic scene of the film is also its most effective in delivering...
Bibliography: American History X, David McKenna, 1998
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