American History X

by KE Monahan Huntley

American History X, written by David McKenna and directed by Tony Kaye (also the cinematographer), is a highly polished presentation of an ugly subject: the rhetoric of hate. The fine acting of Edward Norton and Edward Furlong extricates the film from a cliché driven script. From a Dramatica perspective, it is a particularly good illustration of how concerns and benchmarks relate in the four throughlines.

The objective story domain is examined in psychology. Divergent thinking and manipulations, both subtle and overt, are problematic. Skinheads, under the leadership of white supremacist Cameron Alexander, control Venice Beach. The LAPD is working with Venice Beach High's charismatic and African American principal, Dr. Robert Sweeney, in conceptualizing (os concern) a way to eradicate their intolerable presence. The plan entails convincing Cameron's protégé, Derek Vinyard (protagonist and influence character), to take their side. Derek is a former pupil of Sweeney's. At one time he was open to his mentor's ideas (os benchmark-conceiving) -- that is until his revered (and racist) father dissuaded his impressionable son from following the leader.

Derek's firefighter father is killed in a drive by, leaving the teen vulnerable to the influence of Cameron-manifested when Derek deliberately and viciously wastes Crips gang members carjacking his truck. Without the eyewitness testimony of his fourteen year-old brother, Daniel, he only serves three years jail time. His release from Chino starts the objective story (ic benchmark-present).

The same day as Derek's release, Daniel, a student at Venice Beach High is in the principal's office: " . . . arguing for Hitler as a civil rights hero" in his history paper "My Mein Kamph." Outraged, Sweeney conceives (os benchmark) of a way to make Daniel think (mc solution) about his fixed mindset (mc domain), and charges Daniel to give a written account of the past three years (mc concern-memory): "I want you to analyze and interpret all the events surrounding Derek's incarceration. How these events helped shape your present perspective (mc response) concerning life in contemporary America. The impact on your life -- your family's."

The most vivid throughline is explored in the relationship story domain (physics) where the concern is understanding. Derek has returned as head of the household. He has undergone a profound change in Chino, and no longer wants himself nor Daniel to take any part in the skinhead movement. Each new piece of information Derek offers Daniel (rs benchmark-learning) of what had happened to him in jail (ic concern-past), combined with Daniel's own recollections (mc concern), creates a new consciousness (mc benchmark) in the boy. This ultimately culminates in Daniel fully appreciating the knowledge (rs problem) he and Derek had shared no longer holds true.

There is no happy ending to celebrate this realization (mc resolve-change). Daniel is fatally shot in the high school boys' room-an explosive action (story driver) separate and apart from the objective story (mc critical flaw-fate). Derek, cradling his dead brother's bloody body, however, understands all too well the pivotal role he has played in Daniel's senseless death: "Oh God, What'd I do? Oh God. Oh God."

In Daniel's voiceover the tragedy is underscored-as he posthumously reads the conclusion to his American History X paper:


So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned (rs benchmark). My conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best, so if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong:

"We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory (mc concern) will swell when again touched, as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature (judgment-good)."

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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