“I don’t want help — I pays my way.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
The film centers on a young man (Jarman) steeped in his town’s culture of white supremacy, forced to acknowledge and deal with the cognitive distortions that arise when his life is saved by Hernandez and Hernandez rejects payment of any kind. Jarman’s anger at Hernandez — including his desire for the “revenge” of paying Hernandez to complete their “transaction” — is a bold narrative choice, refusing to sugarcoat the intensely personal and challenging process of dismantling racism. Indeed, the entire film could be viewed as an exercise in revealing and exposing racism on every level — from the overtly murderous cries of the lynch-happy white mob, to Jarman’s internalized fury, to Brian’s initial conviction that nothing can ultimately save Hernandez, regardless of his guilt or innocence.
The storyline is atmospherically filmed (by Robert Surtees) throughout, with the very-real threat of white violence present around every corner, adding to the film’s authentic sense of danger — yet there are pleasant surprises as well, primarily the inclusion of a feisty old woman (Patterson) who accepts that it’s her responsibility to help out in whatever way she can.
Indeed, without Patterson’s seemingly random presence as Jarman is talking about the matter with Brian, the film wouldn’t progress as it does. The scene of Patterson and Elzie Emanuel (playing the teenage son of Jarman’s family servants) driving along in her rickety jalopy to the cemetery while Jarman rides a horse in front of them is a truly surreal one:
as is the entire scene that ensues. The gradual discovery of proof exonerating Hernandez is simultaneously miraculous and numbingly mundane — a vivid anecdote of how many black men in American have been killed on circumstantial “evidence” alone.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: