We went to see Fruitvale Station last night. It's based on the true story of Oscar Grant, who was dragged off a BART train in Oakland in the early hours of New Year's Day, 2009, and shot and killed by a BART police officer for essentially no worse a crime than being young, and male and black. Seen in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and the Zimmerman trial, it's a powerful movie that sheds much light on the plight of young black men in a society that regards them with suspicion, fear, and loathing, and hog-tied by laws and law enforcement practices that single them out for special, and especially harsh, treatment.
The movie follows Oscar for the length of the day that precedes his death, including flashbacks to the kind of prison experience that is almost routine too many of our young black men. We see him doing what he can to learn to control the anger and resentment that threaten to poison his relationship with his girlfriend and their little daughter; to correct the missteps of the past, to find a viable path for himself to employment and a decent living, and to change his life for the better. He meets with seemingly insurmountable roadblocks and frustration at every turn. By the end of the day he's ready to do whatever he can to find an outlet for his natural energy, and head off in search of some simple fun.
Aside from some terrific acting and some scenes that grab the attention for their gritty realism, the movie has the poetic feel of classical tragedy, building with that growing sense of awful inevitability toward its fatal climax. It shares with tragedy that sense of necessity -- that from the first moment, once the die is cast, there is no other outcome possible for the story's hero. His own needless death is foreshadowed by the senseless, casual hit-and-run killing of an innocent dog, which he is powerless to prevent. From that moment we, the audience, watch in dismay and horror as what we have known is to happen from the start fulfills itself, no matter his futile efforts to save himself. And yet, despite their social circumstance, the movie manages to find the essential nobility of the human beings caught up in its web: the mother, the girlfriend, the little girl, all beautiful and, in the end, somehow transcendent in their grief. If there is catharsis in this tragedy, it is found in the resplendent -- and, yes, feminine--glow of this transcendence over misplaced, aggressive, uncontrolled male energy.
This is a movie of rare passion and power. It's harrowing to watch, but its intensity is deeply rewarding for anyone who wants to learn more -- not only about the social injustices that continue to plague this country, but also about something that tragedy has always taught us best: the essential nobility of the human soul. This Oscar is more than deserving of one of those other Oscars--the ones that celebrate the best achievements in film...