Bad Boys for Life
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As far as my research tells me, Ron Lax was not a central figure in the West Memphis Three Case. However, he features prominently in Devil's Knot. At first I did not understand why Egoyan wastes valuable screen time on a peripheral character. But I believe that Egoyan chose to focus on Lax because he refused to participate in the scapegoating of Damien, Jessie, and Jason. Egoyan encourages audiences to assume Lax's point of view, and that point of view which understands how terrible and tragic the act of scapegoating is. Everyone participated in crucifying Damien and co. Egoyan highlights Lax in order to condemn all those who were complicit in convicting Jessie and co. Lax represents the minority of people who actually stood up for Jason and co and refused to stand idle while three teenagers became victimized by an arbitrary and lazy prosecution, by a bloodthirsty and paranoid community, and by a crime they didn't commit.
Tonya is a victim. Of an emotionally and physically abusive mother, of a physically abusive husband, of a crime she didn't commit, of a callous judge whose sentence is simply outrageous, and of a ravenous and merciless world, in that order. Her story is heartbreaking.
Rachel projects a fantasy onto Megan. Of a wife deeply in love with her husband, and a husband who loves his wife with equal intensity. Megan doesn't live up to this fantasy, so Rachel calls her a whore. Megan is still mourning the death of her daughter, that grief transformed into resentment which she then projects onto Anna, making her feel inadequate for being a stay at home mother. Anna is willfully ignorant about her husband, projecting that ignorance onto Rachel, insisting that she's the dangerous, abusive ex-spouse. This movie is about the effect of one man on three women; but it's also about the relationship the three women have to each other. It's callous.
The most significant scene in American History X is the one with the entire family at breakfast. The complete nuclear family structure is perfect, until the father exposes a kind of primal racism. It's all the more insidious because he introduces it as a concerned parent. The effect is reverberating. Audiences are so wrapped up in Derek's reaction that we forget Danny is listening too. The camera does a chilling thing when it turns to face Danny. It shows us that he is also consuming and internalizing his father's racism. As such, while their father's death triggered their complete transformation, it was during that breakfast that they were indoctrinated.
This film falls into a category of film and television shows that answer violence with violence or abuse with abuse, or abuse with murder. Films like Some Kind of Hate, I Spit on Your Grave, and shows like Big Little Lies. The abuser is quickly and poetically disposed of, which is great to watch, while it lasts, but that's the problem. They offer instant gratification, nothing more. They clearly don't know how to respond to the abuser/tormentor/assailant in a meaningful way. In a way that will deliver real, long term justice to the abuser. It doesn't make the abuser understand, and if it does, they don't live long enough to be reformed. It's lazy. People watching, who suffer real, systematic abuse on a daily basis, are totally condescended to. It's beyond problematic.
In the context of Tormented, Justine doesn't get framed because she was implicated-as such, she might not have slapped Darren around the cafeteria, but she didn't help him either, she gets framed because Darren was jealous. So in many ways, the victim becomes the bully, which is also a problematic and regressive outcome. Answering cruelty with cruelty is never the solution and the last outlet if one is searching for peace. You inevitably become part of the problem, perpetuating the cycle of violence and bullying.