A black musician tours the racist south of the USA in the 1960s and hires a driver and bodyguard with a narrow world view. Whether these in GREEN BOOK told story is as good as various film awards and Oscar nominations suggest? We approach this in our criticism…
The Plot Summary
1962 in the United States: The Italian-American Frank Anthony “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) is a daring bouncer who loves his wife (Linda Cardellini) more than anything and can really dish it out when it counts. Since “his” club will be under renovation for several months, Tony urgently needs an interim job. When the respected musician in New York, who literally lived above Carnegie Hall, Dr. When Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) wants to hire him to drive him on a tour through the south of the USA, which is quite dangerous for blacks, Tony initially refuses. The first salary offer is too low for him and he doesn’t want to give the servant for a black man. In the end, Shirley and Tony come to an agreement, although the mood between the simple-minded, somewhat rowdy Tony and the well-read, elegant Shirley is icy for the time being. Little by little, however, they become friends – and together they have to fight through the hatred that they encounter in the south…
Green Book Movie explanation of the ending
The USA feuilleton has been preoccupied with a question at irregular intervals for over six decades, but always with great intensity: Is it allowed to laugh about National Socialism and its atrocities? The answer that we most closely agree with came from Dietrich Brüggemann’s “Heil” and is: “Yes, but the laughter has to get stuck in the throat.” The US cultural circle also has a crucial question that keeps coming up, and that Currently one of the many factors that made “Green Book” one of the most controversial Oscar contenders in many years: Can you tell a feel-good film about racism? A question that cannot be answered with the same reluctance as the USAs’ favorite (?) cultural industry problem, because the feel-good pigeonhole and laughter that gets stuck in your throat are categorically mutually exclusive. Admittedly, limiting the simmering (US-American) cultural debate regarding Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” to this question alone enormously simplifies the moral tug-of-war surrounding this dramedy. In the biopic about a stage in the life of Anthony Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley’s discussions continue to abound, and with every film award and nomination that the film receives, the discourse becomes more solid:
Jony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) have fun on their road trip together.
In times of #MeToo and #TimesUp, can committees and award juries honestly allow themselves to honor a film whose director in the 90s had a lot of fun showing his penis to other people without being asked? Should we give a prize to a drama whose script was written by an author who a few years ago stirred up sentiment against Muslims via Twitter? Does it speak of double standards when a large part of the US cultural scene advocates more diversity and a stronger representation of reality in the industry, but then prefers to award “Green Book” written and directed by white people instead of, for example, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”? Or do more people simply like the former film? And if so, is that the all-important crux of the matter because “Green Book” wraps up an unpleasant topic in a pleasant way? Which brings us back to our original question. “Green Book” and the reception surrounding this film as well as its award successes (among other things, it won three Golden Globes and two awards from the National Board of Review, and it also has five Academy Award nominations) could provide material for entire study courses offer, but for reasons of space let us limit ourselves to the basic question of well-being (in order to touch on another “Green Book” debate later).
There is probably no answer that will satisfy everyone – while Monique Judge from ‘The Grapevine’, Candice Frederick from ‘Slashfilm’ and Jourdain Searle from ‘The Ringer’, among others, blame the pleasant basic tone of “Green Book” for this They see the film as a “white savior narrative” and feel-good cinema for racists, Roger Ross Williams, who made history at the beginning of this decade by becoming the first black director to win an Oscar for a short documentary, celebrated the film in the social media Networking. And Martin Luther King III programmed a special public screening of the film on the occasion of his father’s 90th birthday, while “BlacKkKlansman” supporting actor, musician and human rights activist Harry Belafonte wrote a reader’s email to “The Grapevine” about the “Green Book” produced by Octavia Spencer, among others. jumped to the side to help. If there is already such disagreement among those affected by racism as to whether a film like “Green Book” is harmful or not, how the hell is a white film critic from United Kingdom supposed to provide the patent answer? So let’s be honest: All we can do is justify our approach and thus make a further (hopefully fruitful) contribution to the public discourse. The idea why we are inherently open to tonally accessible films about problematic issues is rooted in the Trojan Horse concept.
Tony Lip thinks Don Shirley should get a new suit.
Imagine if ZDF showed the uncomfortable “Sorry to Bother You” in prime time at Christmas, glowing with justified anger. How many people will probably tune in? Unfortunately, probably not that many, and as important as the film is in its significance, it will actually lose a lot of people over the course of its 90 minutes. Especially those who resist his clearly conveyed message – media and social science calls this “confirmation bias”. People tend to screen out media content and other information that consciously contradicts their attitudes. Something like “Sorry to Bother You” serves as an expression of anger, a rallying cry to like-minded people, a surrealistic mirror of the situation and is therefore artistically valuable. Not at all. Standing alone, however, he is unlikely to indoctrinate people who are not already receptive to his message. On the other hand, if our thought experiment were to show “Green Book”, the nice, friendly, slightly dramatic film about two people who initially don’t like each other and who gently get closer to each other – well, the audience would probably be significantly larger. And there is a legitimate hope that there will be a few people among them who may initially be similar to protagonist Tony.
People who shouted at the television the day before during a report about an anti-racism demonstration on the news: “What kind of problems do they have, damn it, things can’t be that bad for them here?” People who Although they do not belong to a racist mob, they still have their prejudices, harmful behavior and empathy problems. People with whom you don’t have to overcome false, burning beliefs, but rather simple obscurity. No, feel-good racism dramas like “Green Book” will by no means solve racism, especially not on their own. But they can, at least we hope, ideally be a productive part of the process because they can influence other people through different argumentative avenues than more profound films such as Sorry to Bother You. In this respect, we are convinced that, in theory, such films can do more good than reinforce existing, problematic worldviews. So much for the basic question of this one from cameraman Sean Porter (“Century Women”) very functionally lit and unobtrusively, straightforwardly directed film by Farrelly. Now let’s get to the practice of this particular film. Unfortunately, the theoretical part of the song is far from over. There are some aspects in the implementation of “Green Book” that make this film a problematic sub-genre representative and that make us bitter towards this film genre despite our fundamentally friendly view of it. And these major flaws are mostly due to the script, which become particularly clear through comparisons with more successful, similar films.
As a counterexample, let’s take the Disney/Bruckheimer production “Against Every Rule” about an interracial high school football team in 1971, exactly at the time when racial segregation was gradually being abolished. This sports and racism dramedy also tries to combine audience-friendly humor with thematic gravity. And in this film, too, opposing friendships are formed that have to overcome stumbling blocks due to internal and external racism. However, there is a subtle but important difference: the white characters in this film repent for affronts committed at the beginning of the film, which becomes clear in “Against Every Rule” in sometimes smaller, sometimes larger gestures and story mechanisms. Not so in “Green Book,” which suggests that it’s enough for Tony to give up his prejudices – which amounts to a very placid “you did well, goal achieved” moral for white audiences.
Don Shirley and his band perform on the tour in front of wealthy white audiences.
Furthermore, “Green Book” perpetuates (whether consciously or unconsciously) a very damaging defensive response from society whenever injustice is involved: “If you don’t want trouble, just pay attention.” The one by Farrelly, Brian Hayes The dramedy, written by Currie and Tony’s grandson Nick Vallelonga, is guilty of this in several individual moments, such as in a scene in which Tony is called at night to save Shirley from an emergency. He left his motel, which was definitely recommended (and run down) in the eponymous travel guide for blacks, to have a drink alone in a bar. There he is beaten bloody by white people – and the way in which the script unravels this from Tony’s point of view, and the emphatic words it puts in Tony’s mouth while Shirley hardly knows how to defend herself, suggests: “Yes, racism is stupid , but, hey, how did Shirley come up with such a stupid idea? He is at least as much to blame for this misery as his tormentors!” This argument is the little sister of “If she didn’t want to be raped, she shouldn’t have put on a short skirt!” and belongs in the landfill of public discourse. Not resist talking!
Eighteen years earlier, “Against Every Rule” demonstrated how to do it better while remaining completely within the mood parameters of a drama with an extremely similar, yet completely different scene: Some members of the team featured in the film want to, drunk on a victory , partying together at night when a few white guys from the squad suggest going to a bar. The blacks in the group appear unsure and even become slightly annoyed as they continue to be harassed. The whites assure us that everything is clear now, it will work. As soon as they arrive at the bar, the black people are stared at in disbelief by the bar patrons and the bartender and are ultimately chased away with insults, whereupon their friends are at first speechless, then try to defend themselves stammering and are ultimately left standing there in shame while their friends evaporate in annoyance. The generally so lively “Against Every Rule” leaves the scene with the debt to those who thought racism could be eliminated with a few football victories. The scene resonates with the understandable anger of the discriminated against – and not with a helpless, weak black man who supposedly maneuvered himself into a fight through his own fault.
Tony and Don don’t always agree.
Now some people, well-meaning towards Farrelly, Vallelonga and Currie, will probably say: “Yes, but what if that’s what happened back then, is the film supposed to lie?” Unfortunately, this can be countered: “Green Book” doesn’t have it that way historical accuracy, so this moment could have been falsified for the sake of a stronger film morale, if it ever happened at all. This brings us closer to the other problem mentioned above, which caused the “Green Book” debate to become so heated and which stands apart from previous missteps by some of those responsible. Because Shirley’s surviving relatives describe the film as a bunch of lies . First of all: a feature film is a feature film and not a documentary for a reason; Faithfulness to the facts is not the highest priority, and it is not for nothing that films like “Green Book” usually contain a plaque that notes that they were inspired by true events (or something similar). They are not factual reports and they do not have to be. If the “Green Book” authors had invented or changed something here and there for purely dramaturgical reasons – no problem at all. In real life, did Tony and Shirley perhaps have their biggest argument with the concert promoters at the beginning of the tour rather than towards the end? Yes, who would care in that case? The most important thing comes to the end in the film, which is simply more catchy storytelling, keyword: “Bohemian Rhapsody” .
It becomes problematic when a film that already has good intentions (and we just want to assume that the filmmakers working under Octavia Spencer’s role here) goes against the wall several times and falsifies the true story in such a way that it dilutes the actual moral of the whole thing. Among other things, Shirley was friends with human rights activist Martin Luther King (already at the time when “Green Book” was set) and was therefore consistently part of the African-American community. “Green Book,” on the other hand, portrays him as a culturally homeless man, alienated from black people in America and disrespected by white people. It is only through Tony’s direct but well-meaning manner that film Shirley gets closer to “his people” – whereby “Green Book” suggests that Shirley only found herself thanks to the initially bigoted Tony, which in the worst case scenario gives the (white) audience the interpretation “Yes, like Tony, thinking that all black people like the same music and love the same food is crazy, but both sides can still learn from each other!”
An unusual job interview: Don Shirley is looking for a driver and protector for the upcoming concert tour.
By the way, Shirley’s descendants are not unreflective about the film, which, contrary to their statements, claims that Shirley cut off contact with his family early on: They praise Mahershala Ali’s performance – for good reason, we think. Despite all the criticism, the Oscar winner (2017 for “Moonlight” ) gives a very delicate performance of a cultivated man who is constantly struggling with how he should react safely to his surroundings. The fact that Shirley’s relatives were still alive was kept from him during the preparations for the film does not improve the impression we have of Farelly’s performance at the starboard of this film. And Vallelonga and Farrelly’s defense that they just wanted to make a film about a brilliant, unfortunately little-known artist also leaves a bad aftertaste, considering that Shirley is only a supporting character who learns from Tony to stop being so rigid to go life.
Dolores (Linda Cardellini) is happy about the regular letters she receives from her husband Tony.
And yet, isolated, successful scenes suggest that “Green Book” at least belongs in the “It’s well-intentioned” category. In one sequence, Farrelly very effectively shows how power structures reinforce racist actions: Tony and Shirley are stopped by the police on a heavily rainy night. A younger police officer is routinely courteous towards Shirley, while his older colleagues show unrelenting harshness and poorly concealed disgust. The boyish police officer briefly tries to persuade his colleagues: Shirley can pass his papers through the window, he doesn’t have to expose himself to the heavy rain. However, one contradiction from the senior officer is enough for the “nice” police officer to flip a switch: he doesn’t simply ask Shirley, rolling his eyes, to get out despite the weather. No. He hisses racist insults at him and tackles him roughly. This scene is effectively structured and emphatically directed by Farrelly – but it is a rare exception in the dramatic part of the film, in addition to Tony’s commendably tolerant approach to Shirley’s homosexuality and Farrelly’s similarly calm (and destigmatizing) staging of the coming out scene. The fact that Shirley’s sexuality is completely washed out of “his” biopic (as Vallelonga and Co. are trying to portray the film) is another matter entirely. Homework: For each case, like “Green Book,” find a corresponding hetero biopic that similarly generously pushes the love life of its center to the sidelines. That will not be easy …
So you inevitably notice: The small and large annoyances surrounding “Green Book” completely overshadow the successful aspects of the film as soon as you don’t dismiss the film because of its comfortable surface. As formidable as Ali’s acting and as smugly Farrelly conveys the friendly exchanges between Shirley and Tony Lip that occur as soon as the two are on the same wavelength, there is far more to consider here. “Green Book” is an entertaining “audience film” that is solidly made on the surface, i.e. a film that is accessible and catchy and structurally knows exactly when to press which emotional buttons. But as soon as you start thinking about the film, at best it falls apart and at worst it becomes evidence in a trial against itself. And that’s completely independent of its tone! “Against Every Rule” and various other films combine fun with drama and do not make a fool out of their own statements.
Don Shirley passes the time reading during long car rides across the USA.
Conclusion: Take a deep breath: Mahershala Ali shines in “Green Book” and whenever the two main characters tease each other in a friendly way in the film, this dramedy works. However, as soon as she tries to address racism, she often proceeds in a crude, naive or even (unintentionally?) passive-aggressive manner. Even if we want to say, “The benefit of the doubt for the defendant,” we have to find this defendant guilty because, although well-intentioned, he was made to pull hair out.
“Green Book” can be seen in US cinemas from January 31st.