10th-grade French class. A friend asks me, “Joey, you watch a lot of movies. Ever seen Romper Stomper?”
I had never heard of it.
“It’s one of Russell Crowe’s first ones,” my friend tells me, ” and he’s a skinhead. It’s kinda like American History X.”
He was right. The films are both about hate (even though History mainly focuses on race and Stomper deals with hate in general). Where “kinda” comes into play is that History is preachy and that Stomper is a bit more honest. Of all the movies that deal with hate, Romper Stomper does not rank as one of the very best, but the movie isn’t far from being on the list.
After playing a quiet and subtle role in Proof, the 1991 Australian movie about a blind man who adopts a friend to “prove” that the events he perceives happening around him are true, Crowe turns in a stellar performance as Hando, a malicious skinhead in early-’90s Australia. He does what he feels like and doesn’t worry about the consequences. When his girlfriend comments how much she likes a jacket in a store window, Hando busts the window and steals the apparel, not caring about the loud alarm in the background. (Interesting, because that’s all it seems to be to him: background noise.)
These guys have a big problem recently: a lot of “gooks” are moving into their neighborhood, which used to be all white. And as Hando says to an early victim: “This is not your country.” Hando, able to quote from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and his cronies dedicate themselves to scaring the Asians away at any cost in the name of local racial purity. Even though he considers the damage they can do to a few people, Hando doesn’t think about retaliation, and the cycle of anger/hate begins.
A particularly long sequence in the film does a great job at showing how violence only perpetuates more destruction. The skinheads are beating up two Asian guys. Once alerted of trouble by a friend of the victims, Asian co-workers arrive by the truckful and raid the racists. (Goodbye bare knuckles, hello baseball bats!) A skinhead stabs one of the Asians, and the violence only gets bloodier when the Caucasians retrieve deadlier weapons from their home.
Gabe, the main female character portrayed by Jacqueline McKenzie of The 4400 fame, plays an integral role in the game of anger and is the only one who doesn’t display racial hate (as a matter of fact, in the middle of a beating, she asks Hando to stop his abuse). She has her reasons for being angry, but she–and only one other character–learns how hatred never leaves you clear-headed and always allows you to make mistakes. When she finds love, we doubt how real it is between the two of them. However, the movie instructs us it’s possible for two people to love when finally removed from a breeding ground of hatred.
One of my favorite shots in the movie is one of the last. After a fight ensues, Asian tourists look down at the beach toward our heroes to see what all the fuss is about (a car with no one inside is on fire). We see a low-angle shot of the visitors and a high-angle view of the protagonist. What a reversal: the people who “this country doesn’t belong to” have the heroic angle, and we “look down upon” the characters we’ve been following this whole movie, our heroes. Here, I don’t believe the movie is supporting racism by saying one race is better than the other; I think the shots provide an inconsistency that destroys a theory the racist characters live by. How poetic.