No matter who we are, no matter where we live, we’re all bound by borders. Many of us are content to live within these borders – others are simply forced to exist within them. However, some of us need to break out, burst through adversity, even if what is on the other side is both frightening and unknown. From this comes a story about the boundaries that define our lives, and a young white man’s struggle to find the strength and courage to transcend them. Set against Detroit’s hip hop scene in 1995, the story centres on Jimmy Smith Jr., a young rapper, who struggles to find his voice.
I watched this film again recently on YouTube Go (awesome and handy app, just btw) for the first time in 3 years, which is a shift from my once-a-year routine. Anyway, what a great film! A real statement of its time. Everything that was bad in the US in the 1990s is perfectly illustrated – living in trailer parks, caught up in gangs (predominantly blacks against whites and vice versa). All this is the backdrop for some of the most precocious wordsmiths around, creating rap and hip hop music including one Oscar winning song (A song which has had much impact on my life since the first time I’ve heard it back in ’02).
A speck from the real life story of rapper superstar Eminem, this movie is very much in the tradition of other “poor kid with a dream” stories such as Saturday Night Fever and Rocky. The plot around these stories follow practically the same pattern: A talented character has to learn to take risks and believe in himself, encountering setbacks in the beginning but ultimately triumph is the order of the day.
Let’s not even kid ourselves: 8 Mile is the rap Rocky. Period. It’s Rocky and Apollo Creed, but this time the words fly by like fists.
Eminem wears the role like a second skin, but he’s not totally cleaning out his closet. He hangs with his multi-racial consortium of homeboys in Detroit. He scribbled lyrics on bits of paper on the bus, glowering over his rap career, his unhappy domestic situations, and the way his can’t-keep-it-to-herself attractive mom keeps flaunting her sex life – Ahem – “My boyfriend won’t go down on me,” she confesses to her son. “Aw, mom, I don’t need to know that,” glares Jimmy.
Upon introspection, I realised that the very essence of 8 Mile was its non-flashy, keeping it real kind of setting. Honestly, I expected an everyday common rags to riches story, but this film is everything but common. In fact, most notably for me is Eminem’s enraged lyrics and 8 Mile’s vile candor (there’s just this something about brutal honesty).
Oh, and, in case you were wondering, there is rapping, and PLENTY of it. Expect rapping that is really top quality (cutting edge stuff), for the most part, which is so coherent to the script that it is quite evident that the characters want to and choose to rap, not that the script forces them to do so. The rapping is so natural and happens because it must happen to these characters at this time, and not because Eminem is a rapper.
Honourable mention: Brittany Murphy. R. I. P girl. Even though you did our homeboy dirty, we still got heart eyes for you. Keep shinning your light on us.
This film says something about rap and the human experience that hasn’t been articulated this well many times before, harmonising the gap between rap and poetry significantly, making that gap look a whole lot smaller.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie (with every other hundredth time I’ve watched it, lol).
Some may not enjoy it as much, but that’s probably because they go into the movie with different expectations. If you’re expecting something other than a hip hop based film that subtly comments on social, economic and racial issues, and is a pseudo rags to riches story, then you might be sorely disappointed.
When you realise what the movie is trying to show, it starts to shine. When you realise the realness of the movie, it shines even more. Finally, when you watch B-Rabbit walk off the screen with a peace sign in the air, no better than he was in the start, with ‘Lose Yourself’ in the background, you know the movie is worth it.
The film ends not with a blast but with the peace that comes to a rapper who finds his voice at last.
Watch the movie, enjoy the battle scenes, listen and absorb the lyrics then you’ll see what I see. I can’t promise that it’ll be to everyone’s taste – but everyone should watch it at least once in their lifetime.