The Poetry of Violence: Fruitvale Station



From the opening frame to the end credits, a cloud of impending doom hovers over Fruitvale Station—not only because the visual language creates an oppressive atmosphere, but because the viewer knows how the story will end. Director Ryan Coogler begins the film with actual footage (recorded, it appears, with a mobile phone) of the tragic incident that robbed 22-year-old Oscar Grant of his life, a creative choice that inherently shapes how the audience perceives the ensuing action.


What makes the events leading up to the fatal gunshot so haunting is that they are so… ordinary. With the exception of a few story beats clearly meant to evoke sympathy for the protagonist (Oscar, intent on putting his criminal past behind him, throws out an entire bag of weed despite desperately needing money to pay his rent), every scene captures the quiet rhythm of everyday life. As the narrative unfolds, Oscar goes grocery shopping for his mother’s birthday dinner, picks up his daughter from preschool, agrees to lend his sister money he doesn’t have, and so on. We can only watch in impotent silence while the characters, completely unaware of the looming disaster, act out this mundane drama of universal human experiences.


Has there ever been a more honest cinematic depiction of violence? After all, violence rarely gives advance warning of its arrival; rather, it strikes with brutal, merciless swiftness.


[Originally written August 12, 2013.]

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