Published May 08, 2009In the third act of this documentary about particularly weathered ex-convicts who struggle to live normal lives, one of the subjects begs the question, albeit in a less concise manner, "why diminish, forget and blindly categorize a person once they are imprisoned?" The answer is obviously complex but involves a society founded on collective moral superiority and reward systems based on proven ability to normalize and adapt to singular traditional beliefs. This excludes those that openly defy systemic logic.
Furthermore, at another point in the documentary, director and interviewer Alan Zweig asks an ex-convict why the prisoners cannot all just agree to leave each other alone, given that the major fear of prison is not of prison itself but other particularly violent and unstable prisoners? Again, the answer is complex but could be answered by posing the same question to the straight world, given the human need to congregate for purposes of social validation despite the constant problems conflicting perspectives and identities construct via "being better than."
The interview subjects in this documentary are further along in their years, and removed enough from their actions and affronts they are able to assess themselves with remarkable insight that occasionally proves moving. Sadly, almost every story involves a childhood full of abandonment, rape and violence inflicted by those in positions of authority, therein constructing an ideologue of assumptive exploitation and distrust, leading to social rebellion.
No one suggests that prison is a cakewalk, describing horrible random acts of violence and the need to constantly put on a game face while ensuring not to make any classic mistakes (gambling, borrowing, eyeballing) but the implication is that there is a similar unease, albeit a more tolerable one, in normal society. It's all about obeying rules and adhering to the expectations of those in positions of power, which sucks when those in power are morons.
The doc, while compelling, suffers from one major problem: Zweig won't shut up. He interrupts interviewees, poses endless questions, remarks, "No one wants to look like a pussy" and feels compelled to psychoanalyze his subjects. For some, this might provide guidance for viewing, while it will just prove annoying and invasive for others. (Primitive)