Moving. Intense. Powerful. Eye-widening. Heartbreaking. These are just a few words that can describe my feelings after watching American History X. I know, I know — we’re in 2010, and American History X was released in 1998 – why am I watching it now? To be honest, I don’t remember hearing about the movie back when it was released. Wondering how I missed it, I did some digging. Released in the same year were two other (and I’m sure more) notable powerhouse movies — one that I was too squeamish to watch until recent persuasion by my husband — Saving Private Ryan, and the other, La Vita e Bella, one of my absolute favorite films on the planet. Perhaps the release of American History X was overshadowed for me by these other films, perhaps I saw the previews and was nervous by its intensity — I don’t remember and I don’t know. But after recently stumbling upon the trailer, my husband and I had a feeling it would be a good, but incredibly hard movie to watch. We were right. Am I glad I watched? Most definitely!
Edward Norton, as he most often does, delivers a commanding and dramatic performance, not only as a skinhead, but as the skinhead, Derek Vinyard, in the struggling and confused community of Venice, California. Edward Furlong takes on the role of Norton’s younger, and impressionable brother, Danny Vinyard. In a time and place where things are changing, and people are losing hope, many turn toward the power of blame and hate. After violence strikes, lives are changed, and lines drawn, it is through the twisting of circumstances and the bond of one unexpected relationship that minds and hearts show the first glimmer of hope. Contrary to personal beliefs, prejudices, and worldviews, characters slowly begin to find that “others” can make them laugh, can listen, can soften the anger, and can turn their world inside out. These are the beginnings of change.
While watching the movie I was reminded of many such relationships — those that broke all the rules and defied all social expectations, those that blur the dividing lines and change the world, one experience at a time. It is my strong belief that beyond the realm of television, movies, and media, it is these same connections in our day to day lives that are of the utmost importance. It’s for this reason that I advocate so passionately in education for study abroad opportunities and work with international students. When we develop special corners in our hearts for particular individuals, towns, cities, states, countries, and even nations — we are then compelled to think twice before blindly blaming others for our misfortune. When someone, perhaps out of anger, pain, or ignorance, says an unkind word (at the least) about one of those special corners — we, out of our experience, are more likely to protect and build bridges of understanding.
At a welcoming speech to incoming international students, a university president delivered an address, highlighting the importance of hosting these students on campus. He shared historical stories of individuals, who based upon positive or negative experiences studying abroad, later were faced with moments that could impact the lives of many, and then chose to use their power to protect or to harm.
In your life, what people, experiences, or stories have blurred the lines of your worldview, your beliefs, or even turned your world inside out?