The House I Live In Reviews
Jarecki started out asking about how drug abuse hurt his Nannie Jeter's family (her sons were imprisoned or died too young). He also ties in other stories: an Iowa Judge who mostly handles drug cases, residents of the projects involved in the drug trade, users and dealers imprisoned for their possession (not necessarily use) of their brand of drug, prison guards dealing with the incarcerated, police officers on the drug beat, and historians with historical perspective on drug use. These other stories help create a larger perspective around the institutions that have been built around the drug industry and how the mindset of Americans needs to stop seeing the extermination of drug use as the core issue and the rehabilitation of people as a better use of the nation's resources.
As a movie, The House I Live In works because of general movie patterns. Behaving mostly like a thriller and mystery, Jarecki uses each person to give the audience insight into the different players in the drug game. He also curveballs the audience into thinking the movie is only going to be about the affect of drugs on people's lives. Once the historian (Richard Lawrence Miller) enters the picture, The House I Live In shifts into a study of how the "abuse" of drugs has previously been a guise for the groups in power to remove those deemed unnecessary for society from society (this is also a curveball, initially, the historical facts pointed to race issues mostly). By showing repeated historical trends plus facts about how drug use has remained unchanged despite the best efforts of all parties involved, The House I Live In changes course in its final act: it argues politicians and lawmakers have created a system designed to imprison subsets of the populous and not solve the bigger problem of rehabilitating and reforming these parts of society deemed unnecessary. The House I Live In can stand alongside other great documentaries (Hoop Dreams) that start out with a small idea and eventually evolve into a conversation starter about a broader concept.
Like any good documentary as well, The House I Live In has its share of gotcha facts and wow moments. I was totally unaware of mandatory minimum sentences of multiple years for drug arrests; I was incensed that crack cocaine has 100 times more weight than injectable cocaine (so 1 ounce of crack = 100 ounces of regular cocaine in the law's eyes?), and I was totally unaware of the pattern of drugs and racism across so many ethnicities and how we have become the most jailing country in the world. What makes The House I Live In's shock value hit harder than other documentaries is the fact that it is based in facts alone and weaves into the overall story. This isn't someone lighting a faucet on fire (which can be argued), these are real laws that are sometimes arbitrary in the way they were enacted, thus showing how systemic the war on drugs has become.
The House I Live In is a powerful showcase of the many facets of the world of drugs, from the front lines to the policy makers. The disconnect between those who create laws and those who have to deal with the consequences of the laws is a real concern raised by Eugene Jarecki and his narrator/filler David Simon. The House I Live In does what great documentaries do by getting people interested in the topic and hopefully creating interest among those not directly involved in the issue. I know I feel more enlightened and fired up, I can only hope others (since the incarcerated cannot create policy) who have a voice will start using it soon.
Director Eugene Jarecki begins his story with Richard Nixon pushing through tough laws to control drug use in America.
What is not widely know and that the film revals is that Nixon also spend a huge amount of money on the treatment of drug abuse and how later presidents cut back on this part of the deal in order to focus on the war.
Jarecki shows that if your poor or a memeber of a miniority you have greater chance of going to prison for drug offences than someone who is well off.
We see prisoners being given life sentences for carrying a small bag of Crystal meth and how there lives and the lives of their families aredestroyed by such harsh sentencing.
Jarecki shows that with a father in prison or absent that the sons and daughters are doomed to follow the same path and with over 45 million addicts imprisoned since the start of the war on drugs its a fairly bleak and crowded path.
The film reaches some shocking conclusions including the fact that many prison wardens and policemen see there role as essentially self defeating and who they feel a more compassionate approach is required in the country is to solve its drug crime problem.
The whole drug war has been fuelled by paranoia and fear and this film seeks to destroy the myths surrounding that war are in the end try to change for the better.
A film which offers great insight into a very thorny subject
Professor after Intellect, Prison Guard after Police Officer, stories unfold from the lips of arbitrary observers and cold hard empirical statistics enforce the cyclical nature of class, race, poverty and crim. Heartbreaking accounts of systematic inequities are detailed from in the prison cell and outside. From behind the court bench and below it.
Jarecki's storytelling is artful and slightly waxing poetical-in an effective manner I might add. He utilizes monologues in the film to humanize the numbers we see and discussions we hear with criminals we come to know over the course of the film; the same criminals we ultimately sympathize with by the end.
Do not get me wrong, this is not a straight up "world against them" diatribe. David Simon, the man behind HBO's the Wire, has a number of well spoken and intelligent insights. He tells us, "what drugs haven't destroyed, the war against them has." This statement is referring to the futile attempt at eradicating drugs from the U.S. for the last 30 years. More black men are going through the legal system (prison, parole, and prosecution) than there were slaves in America 200 years ago. The film indicates a strongly biased machine that affects the entire lower class, but disproportionately the black population.
Near the conclusion of the documentary Simon suggests the "War on Drugs" as a major factor contributing to the cyclical nature of social class. Although never uttered on screen, in many accounts it is implicit that the "War on Drugs" has also been a proponent of racism; the suppression and oppression of the minority populations in America.
"The House I Live In" is a well groomed film. Very little fat and a lot of substance. Easily the most thorough screen analysis of America's current socioeconomic situation that I have discovered to date. This should be the "Super Size Me", the catalyst, for discussions regarding class in our country. Unfortunately, the same dominant system and mentality that works against many subjects in the film, does not appear to be concerned with fixing what is broken.
Bronx drug dealer Shanequa Benitez tells us, "[Society] views [me] as, 'damn you live over there?' But they don't bother to ask, 'damn was it your choice?'" With a jaded resolve Benitez points out the irony in the questions we typically ask about social issues. See for yourself if Jarecki is asking the right ones.