Review this movie
Sep 15, 2013It's amazing that this documentary film has received only one user review so far. And a pretty negative one at that.
First, let me say that I am an observer from way across the Atlantic Ocean, but since the American view on things often seem to somehow find its way over here in one way or another, I was still mighty interested.
To be honest, I started watching this film expecting an analysis of the American prison system, but it is far more than just that. It is about their "war on drugs" throughout the last 100 years, the curtain of politics and laws thrown up around it, and the effects that it now has on the American society. Yes, we are talking about developments that started during the early years of the 20th century, when the use of certain drugs was first made illegal. The reasons behind this, which are given around halfway during the film, are actually pretty shocking to say the least.
Note that there was a time when the use of opium, even cocaine and heroin were considered useful and good in many ways, similar to alcohol, caffeine and nicotine nowadays. There are parts of a 1995 WHO study (specifically the use of cocaine) which provide a very interesting read on this subject.
Although the film does trace its roots back to almost a century ago, it mostly focuses on the situation as it has developed during the last 30-40 years. It talks about the rigorous laws that have come into effect (e.g. with heavy minimum sentencing and extreme multiple strike laws), how they came to be (e.g. by presidents using popular catchphrases, with Nixon as an unexpected exception to the rule), and how these laws are actually pushing entire families into a negative spiral of drug abuse and criminality instead of keeping them out of it. In the last few minutes, as mentioned by another reviewer, it even goes so far as to compare the developments during this "war on drug(user)s" to those during the "war on jews" (i.e. the holocaust). Accurate as this comparison may be, it feels as if the filmmaker is looking for a bit of shock value here, which does not match the perfectly neutral view he manages to maintain during the rest of the documentary, even when it comes to racial issues. Because that is where its strength actually lies.
"The House I Live In" is such an astoundingly good documentary because it manages to provide such an excellent, neutral overview of an incredibly sophisticated, deeply rooted and yet greatly ignored problem. It presents views from all different directions, be it a drug addicts' heartbroken mother who herself has a very troubled history, a stereotypical prison ward who feels he was born for his job, or a college professor who managed to escape the system and is now doing the best he can to keep his son out of it. Everyone gets a word, and the surprising fact is that everyone agrees that the "war on drugs" is not the right way to fight this fight.
In the end, this film does not provide anyone with a ready solution; it merely observes the situation. It gives you plenty of room to make your own opinion on the matter, despite the fact that, as mentioned, there are some graphic analogies made towards the conclusion of the film which somewhat force you into a specific direction. But luckily, the documentary shows that there is some light at the end of this dark tunnel: after decades and decades of failure, more and more people are realising that the current system does not work, and that some things desperately need to change.
By the way, be "warned" that every topic is discussed in a fair but somewhat frank manner; African Americans are just referred to as blacks, people are shown dealing and actually doing drugs, some actual imagery from the holocaust is shown. No euphemisms here. This is an adult documentary about adult themes. But it has one important lesson which is especially important for younger people, those who are the future: do not ever let anyone tell you that some group of people is bad or less than you in any way.… Expand
The House I Live In is not a comfortable film to consider in any respect, but without discomfort it's hard to feel anger - and without anger, it's hard to imagine that anything will ever be done about it.