This is a quick post about "Lakeview Terrace," starring Samuel L. Jackson. I recently rented the movie, since the preview depicted an interesting premise: black cop harasses his interracial newlywed neighbors. After viewing it, however, it has proven to be a racial masculinity contest between the black man (Jackson, as Abel) and the white man (Wilson, as Chris); the black woman, played by Kerry Washington as Lisa, serves mainly as the basis for harassment, the cause of struggle to claim masculinity from the other man.
We learn early on that Abel is a corrupt cop, using unnecessary force to unarm a man in a domestic abuse case, breaking his ribs with his own gun when the man threatens to kill himself. When the new couple moves in, it is immediately evident that he does not approve of the couple's relationship, and begins some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) things to get his point across. When he first introduces himself to Chris, for instance, Abel pretends to rob him. Later on the two of them take a walk together, whereupon Abel states that he doesn't approve of the relationship.
The harassment escalates: lights shining through windows, verbal abuse, slashed car tires. Finally, Abel hires some dude to break in and destroy the house (which leads to the hospitalization of the wife).
What struck me most while I was viewing the movie was this pervading racial-based masculinity. Abel is constantly emasculating Chris, and Chris is constantly determined to reclaim that masculinity by confronting Abel. Lisa even points out--when she was ready to go to Abel and tell him to quiet down his party so the couple could sleep--that Chris only wants to do the macho stuff when he pushes past her, insisting that he be the one to go next door.
Even Chris' wife is perceived to be more masculine than Chris, as Abel points out to his friends that Chris is married to a black woman, and the other black men laugh and warn him to "watch himself."
It isn't that Abel is challenging the interracial relationship--it's that the man is white, and he feels he must emasculate Chris because of it. And Chris responds to this.
Abel later tells Chris about how his wife died, thus explaining why Abel is so disapproving of the couple's situation: Abel's wife died in a car accident with her white boss, and what's been haunting Abel for years is why was she in the car with her white boss in the middle of the day instead of at her office, thus hinting at his wife emasculating him with a white man. Race is immediately involved--and likewise, masculinity. As if to fix this injustice, Abel seeks to destroy the relationship between Chris and Lisa, at one point sending Lisa video of Chris getting a lap dance (omitting that Abel's buddies were holding Chris down).
The movie also portrays Abel as hypermasculine, as a cop and a neighbor, and Chris or the criminals he beats, are how he maintains this hypermasculinity. The final showdown between the two of them (after Chris realizes that Abel was the one who hired the man who attacked his wife) involves Chris aiming a gun at Abel (Abel's is momentarily concealed, as the cops have shown up), and Lisa is screaming at Chris to put the gun down (I admit I was frustrated in each scene where Lisa screamed at Chris, and Chris ignored her to maintain or regain some semblance of masculinity). Chris then tricks Abel into revealing his gun by bringing up Abel's wife, reminding him of her (assumed) infidelity. Then Abel shoots Chris (asserting masculinity with a known phallic symbol), and the cops kill Abel.
This whole movie is backdropped by wildfires getting nearer and nearer to the house, and by the end of the movie the neighborhood is evacuated due to the fires. I can't help but read this as an obvious symbol for destruction, mirroring this masculine struggle between the two men and foreshadowing the death of one. Sadly, I guessed correctly that if one man died in this struggle it would be the black man.
I am interested in any thoughts on this movie, particularly from those who have also seen it. Please don't summarize what happened in the movie unless you also offer an interpretation of it.
Saturday, March 7, 2009