Political Film Society - Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

PFS Film Review
Crime and Punishment in Suburbia


Crime and Punishment in SuburbiaThe theme of angst of suburbia, from Over the Edge (1979) to American Beauty ( 1999), is replayed with far more raw intensity in Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, directed by Rob Schmidt. Based loosely on the Dostoevsky classic, the film contains many voiceovers from Vincent (played by Vincent Kartheiser), a savvy teenager who for some reason has a crush on fellow schoolmate Roseanne Skolnick (played by Monica Keena). From New York, where he learned an invaluable lesson after a police arrest, Vincent looks down on suburbia in California. The film guides us by scrawling eight titles across the screen: (I) "Learning to Hunt" shows the sexual restlessness of the suburb, where husbands spend too much time at the office and newly built communities lack opportunities for cultural pursuits. (II) "Her Motherís a Whore" features Roseanneís mother Maggie (played by Ellen Barkin), who wants a hot bed partner, falls for macho bartender African-American Chris (Jeffrey Wright), and moves out of the beautifully furnished home with her second husband. (III) "Living with Dad" proves to be a nightmare for Roseanne, since her father Fred (played by Michael Ironside) becomes an alcoholic and ultimately rapes her. (IV) "Dark Side of the Moon" demonstrates how Roseanne is unable to come to terms with the incest of her stepfather and rejection by her mother. Her erstwhile boyfriend, star athlete Jimmy (played by James DeBello), cannot understand why she has become so moody. (V) "Damaged Little Fuckers" is the critical segment, in which Roseanne prevails on Jimmy to help her to kill her stepfather. Jimmy holds Fred down while Roseanne inserts a knife into his chest; when Fred fails to succumb immediately, she goes to the kitchen to get an electric carving knife to deliver the fatal blow. When Maggie returns home on an unexplained visit, she discover the body and incriminates herself by pulling out the knife, thus having her fingerprints on the murder weapon and getting blood on herself. Her 911 call brings police, who arrest her. During the trial Maggie appears certain to be convicted by the suburban jury. (VI) "Guilt Destroys" then traces how Jimmy and Roseanne cope with the situation. Roseanne avoids Jimmy, so that they will not be suspected of the crime, while seeing more of Vincent, whose comforting words appear at first to provide a Faustian rationalization. Jimmy, however, has no support from anyone, since Roseanne will not see him. (VIII) "Surrender," the final segment, feature a confession by Jimmy, followed by another by Roseanne, who is incarcerated for manslaughter. While in prison, she is abandoned by Jimmy but faithfully visited by Vincent, for whom she ultimately falls. However, the sick suburban community continues as before to provide the seedbed for more alienation and violence, learning nothing from the tragedy of the Skolnick family. Originally, the movie was to be called "Crime and Punishment in High School," but the title changed after the Columbine massacre so that the focus would be on the causes of violence rather than the violence itself. But what can be done to prevent violence amid the material success of Americaís suburbs? Two answers emerge. According to the filmís director, religious values need to be affirmed, a point repeatedly made by Vincent in a low-key manner, for which he evidently receives the label "freak" from his schoolmates. A second answer emerges from the movieís deconstruction of the mindless competitiveness of Chrisís athletic coach (played by Marshall R. Teague) and the pyrotechnic atavism of the pep rally; narcissistic individualism is the obvious source of the poisonous alienation, with the implication that the children of the suburb may grow up and wise up. Roseanne, by implicitly accepting Vincentís proposal to join him in New York after her release from prison, thus appears headed for a cultural, social, and spiritual redemption, leaving the plastic California suburb behind. New Yorkers will doubtless hope that director Rob Schmidt will provide a prequel or sequel to Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, but the Political Film Society has nominated the movie for an award as best film of 2000 advocating nonviolence and peaceful ways of solving human conflicts. MH

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Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoyevsky's penetrating novel of an intellectual whose moral compass goes haywire, and the detective who hunts him down for his terrible crime, is a stunning psychological portrait, a thriller and a profound meditation on guilt and retribution.