Aug 13 2013
Don’t think of this as a review.
A movie review indicates that there will be some sort of evaluation of quality. Will take into account all the elements of filmmaking, like writing, acting, cinematography, et al.
Very rarely, a movie comes along that hits me in just the right way as to make a review feel hollow and pointless. Such is the case with Fruitvale Station.
All I can offer are some thoughts free of promise, because this movie absolutely gutted me.
I’ve never known anybody who got shot. I’m a middle-class white guy who’s tended to live in pretty good parts of pretty good towns. The kinds of trouble my friends got in tended to be more related to alcohol and petty mischief than violence or vandalism. In short, I’m one of the lucky ones.
Oscar Grant wasn’t. A young black man with a low-level criminal record, Grant was killed on Oakland’s BART system four years ago in an apparently accidental shooting.* Fruitvale Station chronicles the last day of his life.
When asked, a lot of folks will tell you that the reason they love movies is for the escape. Not the spectacle; the escape. Movies can open up the doors of the imagination and make the fantastic seem utterly real.
Writers like J.K. Rowling get this. One of the more memorable single ideas in the last Harry Potter book –
(SEMI-SPOILER ALERT, I guess?)
– is when Harry and Dumbledore have their final conversation. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” Most of you will remember that Dumbledore responds with, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
That’s the real beauty of fiction, isn’t it? It can show us places we’ve never been and dreams we’ve never had, and it can do so in a way that makes those things as real as our very memories. That’s what makes the “escapism” of stories such an alluring and important thing.
I’m preaching to the choir, though. The site’s called “Unreality,” after all. Which brings me to Fruitvale Station, though it seems like it shouldn’t. And you thought I’d forgotten what this post was about!
Fruitvale Station is absolutely NOT what people mean when they talk about escapism. It’s a movie whose utmost concern is realism and meaning. The story it tells, and the people in it, are carefully composed to replicate the genuine article as closely as possible.
Not that this means the movie is “real.” I’m keeping my promise not to evaluate its technical merits, but suffice it to say that every inch of this movie is cannily modulated to appear as much LIKE reality as possible. And yet certain scenes are fabricated. Others, inferred. Dialogue was written and images and sound were edited. The result looks and feels like reality, but it is, in fact, “unreality.”
Godard said,”Film is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie.” Movies are constructs, carefully crafted by dozens if not hundreds of people, and Fruitvale Station — despite its apparent fidelity to reality — is no different.
But sometimes that’s what it takes to make us see reality clearly. If this were a documentary, it wouldn’t have the same resonance.** It wouldn’t show us Oscar alone. In moments of kindness. Moments of intimacy. Of banality.
By showing a (realistically) fictionalized version of Oscar’s life, we come to know him so much better than we would through a post-mortem fact collection. Such collections are never exactly true, anyway. This movie lets us understand Oscar. We “get” him. Fruitvale Station shows us that his life matters, and it shows a bullet take it away.
This is angry subject matter, or at least it could be. That’s why I was most strongly affected by Fruitvale Station‘s near-LACK of anger. The overwhelming feeling left at the end of the movie is one of profound sadness. Without getting too specific, the choice of who to follow in the wake of the shooting says it all. We’re told that riots ensued in the aftermath; we’re told that jobs were lost and people were hated. But the movie only shows grief.
Fruitvale Station is devastating. For me, the only movie experience I can easily compare it to is the way I felt after watching United 93. For those of you who don’t know me (almost all of you, probably), that means I could barely speak for an hour (I think) after the credits rolled. It meant that people kept asking me if I was okay for the rest of the night.
Fruitvale Station is not about an agenda, or a cause, or an opinion. It’s about a man. One who was a little bit younger than I am now.
I’ve never known anybody who got shot. Until I knew Oscar Grant.
*That was the claim, and the verdict. I’m not informed enough to dissent. The movie seems to have an opinion, but it’s never front and center. The shooting itself is played pretty ambiguously. The film certainly doesn’t sympathize with the police, but it also portrays their response to the discharged gun as one of, basically, horror. Shock, at the very least.
**This is as good a time as any to point out that, from what I’ve read, the movie completely fabricates certain scenes and leaves out some unflattering details about Oscar’s life. Without going down a list, suffice it to say that the choices make sense to me and don’t appear to drastically change the nature or point of the story. His death is still a tragedy.
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