21/05/2016

8 Mile - Find Yourself

Thoughts On: 8 Mile

The story of a critical week in an aspiring rapper's life.


First things first, this is an immensely underrated film in my opinion. In terms of direction, acting, writing, pacing, sound design, cinematography, message, meaning, this film is almost flawless. There's only two moments in the film I could critique and that would be the small rap battle before the first conflict with Papa Doc's gang. In this there's a lot of underlying sound missing - as in we don't here the environment around the battle. But all other aspects of sound design are phenomenal, you're made to hear almost everything as you would if you were in these clubs, bars, homes, or streets. The second moment is literally a fraction of  second. It comes near the end with Paul (the gay guy). Jimmy goes to talk to him, a moment that should have been (and probably was) a longer segment, a quiet moment in which they talk. Instead this was edited down and out - and was kind of noticeable. Other than that, this film is flawless. I say this with a bit of bias because I'm a huge fan of Eminem. I don't love rap or R&B that much, but Eminem transcends genre and was the first artist I ever really liked. Either way, that's besides the point. This film is great as it stands on its own with poignant idea of success and work that we'll be unpacking here.

It's easy to see this film as somewhat biographical, telling the story of Eminem's rise to fame. The fact that it isn't is what makes this film great. It knows what it is and how it wants to do things. Moreover, it more or less practices what it preaches. This is a film about doing it yourself. For it then to spend millions on showing the more successful parts of the rapper's career with constant parties, huge houses and so on would negate its purpose. That's why it ends with Jimmy walking back to work, to his crappy, minimum wage job. But, let's jump back to the beginning. The film opens with Jimmy choking at a rap battle after it being made clear that he doesn't belong. With this opening alone you infer that this is a film about following dreams - which it is, but only subtextually. The obvious thing for a writer to do after this opener would be to explain why Jimmy has to be a rapper, saying that it's all that he can be, it's what he's best at. The film doesn't feel it needs to explain this however. It's imbued with a sense of self, of security, and again, it knows just what it is, and so needn't explain itself. The real conflicts of this film come with having everyone else see you the way they want. This is why its so important that there's no character based exposition with Jimmy sitting down and telling his mum or friends 'rapping is all I can do. It's what I do best. I don't care what people expect from me'. Jimmy is forced in and by the film to show, don't tell. It's with his actions that he must prove who he is, not who he's going to be. This is a very interesting idea of reflection and diffraction, an interesting idea of self. Who are you? This is the primary question of the film just like it is in Black Swan. The truth of this is that we are all of course many people. In fact we are as many people as the people we see. To clarify, everyone has their own idea of you. You can try to influence or change that, but no two perspectives of yourself will ever align. We see this throughout the film as captured perfectly with the double-entendre of a charactnym, 'Rabbit'. To Jimmy's friends this means that he's quick and he fucks a lot. To Jimmy's mum it means he's still the little boy with big teeth, a wittle wabbit. The embarrassment Jimmy has when his friends hear this is the crux of the film. No, it's not about having to be two people, but being afraid of having those two sides of you meet. This is what the ending perfectly captures, the last battle isn't Jimmy shooting another rapper down, but shooting himself in the foot repeatedly, empting the clip so there's no more ammo left capable of killing him.

Of course, the ending isn't only part of the film where someone shoots them self. No, I'm not just talking about Cheddar here, but almost every single character. This links into two key ideas in the film. First there's facade, which we've touched on already, and secondly, there's hope, the future and making it. Let's finish up on facade first. A large aspect of the film is about stupidity and ego. I'd like to reference a line in Pulp Fiction here said by Winston, The Wolf. He says in passing, 'of course you are a character, but that doesn't mean you have character'. Now, whilst this may merely sound cool and aphoristic, it has weight - 8 Mile proves this. All characters are playing characters in this film, pretending to be gangsters, hard, successful, promising. But, what the worst lack is the ability to reveal true character. They aren't real in other words. Whilst you can fake it 'til you make it, where do you think you'll end up? This is the huge question posed by the film. If you want to be a rapper, but don't feel you're quite there (maybe you don't quite look the part), you could pretend to be one and make it. But you've gotten yourself into a precarious situation. Maybe you are considered a rapper now, but the past may not be through with you. Again, look at the end of the film. Papa Doc is exposed to be Clarence. He faked it until he made it and then fell flat on his face when the truth was exposed, when his past decided to pop back up again. This is why doing it on your own, but more importantly doing it true to who you are is what matters most. By living life this way you aren't just saving other people trouble, time and effort in finding out that you aren't exactly what you said you were, but you're also saving yourself the shame of having to admit just who you are - after the fact and a little too late. This segues nicely into the next key idea of the future.

The film explores this idea with two core elements: the neighbourhood and Alex (the girlfriend). Where you are largely defines who you are in this film, reinforcing the idea of facade and being seen by context, but, it also defines what may happen to you. This is why the derelict house being burnt down is so significant. This isn't just about destroying a place where horrific things can happen (like the little girl being raped) but is a metaphor. Jimmy is caught at the top of the house, holding a picture in his hands as the fire starts up. Later we find out that he 'always wanted to live in a place like that'. This, using the idea of context, is the film's commentary on dreams. The house being burnt down with Jimmy in it means that he shouldn't try to imagine himself in other people's lives. Why? Because the family that once lived there are... where? Maybe there in a worse situation, maybe they lost the house. This foreshadows the path Jimmy's mum may go down, with the fire symbolising universal destruction of dreams and of hope. For Jimmy to be trapped in a place he idolises is for him to wait for trouble, wait for destruction, dereliction. This is why he's forced to jump out the window. His girlfriend then saying the image of this destruction is beautiful is then ambiguous. It could mean that she likes to see destruction, implying that she's self-destructive in herself (which she seems to be). But, this could also means that she likes to see actual dreams (of Jimmy's) be destroyed. Reasons behind this could be that she wants him to be a go-getter, and so successful so she can simply leach off him--which seems to be her game in end. Now, on the subject of Alex, it's important to see what she represents to Jimmy. She is an idea of reward, she's a peep into a future with women who love a successful man, the kind that hang out in the big houses and at pool parties - those who Jimmy's friends are looking forward to meeting. Her infatuation to Jimmy, however, is conditional. If he can be who she needs him to be, who she sees him as (the promising rapper) she'll stick with him. But, Jimmy clearly isn't the man for Alex and this is because they are, in part, opposites. She's literally willing to do whatever she must to get where she wants. On the other hand, Jimmy is willing to what he must to get where he wants to be. The difference between them is the 'what' and 'whatever'. This is why they are incompatible. But, at the same time, they are very similar characters. Both are shameless. This is why they respectfully flip each other off in the end. Oxymoronic, I know - but it is what it is. Whilst both have nothing to hide, Jimmy is still a person that will be who he wants, and Alex who you need her to be. Here opens up an idea of using people. Alex is more than willing, but Jimmy draws the line.

Here's the lasting point: don't try and beat the world at its own game. It's just too good at it. Moreover, it knows all the rules and so how to break and bend them against you and then over your head. Beat the world at your own game. If you know who you are, you in turn know the rules of your world. You know your capabilities, your weakness, how to defeat you. When you know these things, in theory, no one should be able to beat you. This is what the film is about. Find yourself and then be that person. There's no better tool in life than you. Why is that? Because you're the only thing you can claim to have control over. Everything else might as well be a hammer made out of jelly (jello). Every other person you're seen to be is a shadow of yourself. Yes, they may look like you, walk like you, move just like you, but in the end its just a lack of light, it's the outline you leave by being seen, by having light shone on you.






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