69th Berlinale | 2019
"One does not feel overly sorry for Widner for his choices or for his experiences but one does begin to wonder what type of life he would have had from the start if he had been given the support that he’s offered from Mike Colter, Daryle Jenkins."
Dir. Guy Nattiv
Whether it is the 90s (American History X) or today the rise if White Nationalism in the US has been a constant stain on politics and society that doesn’t seem to be dissipating. There is a confidence in this continued growth of racism, Neo-Nazism and that has led to it becoming normalised. The term ‘nazi’ has entered public discourse in such a way that its significants, pain, and the downright evil connotations have somewhat lost their power. As more and more people embrace this Neo-Nazism the harder it is becoming to control it which only seems create a helplessness.
In SKIN, the feature film from Isleali filmmaker Guy Nattiv, is based on a short film he made about the real-life former American white supremacist Bryon Widner, played by Jamie Bell. Widner, a member of the Vinlanders Social Club is the embodiment of hate and evil. His life is derived from the power structure of the Social Club and is role as an enforcer with his free time spent doing very little besides drinking Widner is the poster boy for ‘Lost Youth’. A young man with very little guidance, hope or inspiration making him a perfect damaged mind to be modelled into a hate driven machine.
Though lost Widner struggles with the life he’s been leading and instead finds a little redemption in his new life with his new wife Julie, Danielle Macdonald, and her children. The family he so longed for he now has and the rebuilding of his life can begin. From the love that Widner shows to his beloved dog Boss and his step daughters she that he isn’t a true lost cause, that deep inside there is somebody that can be saved and who can be an inspiring force for good.
Nattiv refuses to make this a ‘simple’ film of redemption as not everything or every act can be redeemed without showing the real horror of experiences that lead to a conscience revelation. Instead he allows us to see that sometimes there are choices that some people can not avoid making and that their path towards redemption is hard fought.
"Nattiv shows us how easy it is to recruit young, lost, confused men into ‘the club’ and how easy it is for these young men to feel ‘loyalty’ to the Club and how this loyalty can have devastating effects."
Nattiv brilliantly captures how a young man might get invloved with a group of Nazi's and this is painfully realised in one scene when ‘leader’ Fred, Bill Camp, starts talking to a young group of boys offering one Gavin, Russel Posner, some beer and with this little, simple act, a new recruit is part of the Club. This scene is a tragedy as one is left wondering why the only people to talk to these boys, who are aimlessly wondering with nothing else to do, are the Nazi’s?
Nattiv shows us how easy it is to recruit young, lost, confused men into ‘the club’ and how easy it is for these young men to feel ‘loyalty’ to the Club and how this loyalty can have devastating effects.
Throughout the film we see shots of Widner (Bell) who is slowly and painfully having his tattoos removed. There is a subtly to these scenes that underplay the excoriating pain that Widler would have been going rough as he has his face tattoos removed.
Films like SKIN only begin to scratch the surface of the issues, and choices, young men are facing in society. A lack of community or a lack of opportunity, guidance, and support gives young men more pressures face and falling into a life of hate, racism and crime seems to be the only logical choice. One does not feel overly sorry for Widner for his choices or for his experiences but one does begin to wonder what type of life he would have had from the start if he had been given the support that he’s offered from Mike Colter, Daryle Jenkins.
Today Wilder gives talks around the country which offers those till in the grips of these so-called clubs hope that change is possible and nothing is truly set in stone.