Movie Review – American History X

American History X (1998) Directed by Tony Kaye American History X is a flashback-laden film that delves into the world of a former Neo-NAZI and shows how his hatred is flushed down to his younger brother. This movie explains the entire cycle of hatred and prejudice and why people hate. American History X is a subtle social take on the horrid topic of racism. Despite handling a subject as delicate as racism, the movie beautifully portrays the slightest of emotions in the light of a sudden awakening.

STORY : The film’s symbol for racism, Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton), is a far-fetched character that does not lie in the general description of racists. He is rather a well-spoken, well opinionated, charismatic and a man bright enough to inspire. He backs his belief and supports it as it were his faith, although the ideals he holds are terribly wrong .After committing a brutal assault to the two black car thieves, Derek is sent to prison on account of smashing the jaw of one while shooting the other. This scene is one of the best scenes in the history of cinema, shot with sheer brilliancy. During his term in prison it dawns upon him that all humans have potential and all life should be respected without any prejudice. Keeping in mind that Neo-Nazis are extreme racists and are practically brainwashed in their points of view that the term inside the jail serves as a period of rebuilding his opinions is a sign of hope. After a number of shocking encounters, revelations and disappointments his life is suddenly turned upside down. In prison he becomes the minority and soon befriends other white supremacists only to be betrayed by his own race. It is now that he realises that all the ideals he gave utmost importance were of no value. And when he returns to the streets he tries to cure his brother of the same disease that took him –  the propaganda, the forever supremacy of whites and the hatred instilled in their minds against the blacks – but his deeds have to be paid for by someone.


Made within a Complex and Unusual structure it fulfills the norms of cinematography and plot development. Through its artful and elegant cinematography the movie proclaims how organised gang warfare is backed by the social evil of racism and how it propaganda goes on to destroy so many lives. One of the many innovative techniques used in the movie is the constant change from colour to black and white to denote flashback.

DIALOGUES : There is constant use of racial slur like ”nigger” and many other blasphemies. Strong reference to violence, hatred and profanities is also prevalent in the dialogues like ” Weed is for niggers. Put that away now, have a little self-respect”, “I believe in death, destruction, chaos, filth, and greed”,” I hate the fact that it’s cool to be black these days”, but all these little details help in creating the right kind of atmosphere which was required for the film keeping the script in mind.

PERFORMANCE : American History X is one of a kind movie in its genre and displays one of the most intense cinematic examinations of hate movements, their method of operation, their influence and how it spreads. The movie also has some breath taking performances by Avery Brooks, Edward Norton, and Edward Furlong. Edward Norton shines throughout the movie with an extra ordinary performance which concretes his range and ability to adapt physically to any role thrown at him .The social issues are blended beautifully in the script, giving it a genuine edge and giving it an overall finesse. It is one of those rare movies that manage to stay in the viewer’s memory for a very long time.

MESSAGE : The film, more than aiming at the Neo-Nazi racists who have been portrayed as culprits who promote racism proves that one does not have to be black or white to be racist. All that is required is to have hatred in ones heart. Right at the onset of the movie, it is revealed that the movie would have no holds barred and would ensure that the movie is brought down to the downright realities of racism. Tony Kane has done a splendid job in convincing the audience that it is hatred and racism which would be the sole factor for people to loose the people closest to them. With this dramatic exploration into the roots of race hatred in America the movie serves as an excellent study of the cycle of violence.

Ankita Rohatgi

Image Source: []