“We must learn to love, learn to be kind, and this from earliest youth … Likewise, hatred must be learned and nurtured, if one wishes to become a proficient hater.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorisms on Love and Hate.
There is a rather painful apologetic tone in the drab history of cop films. Overproduced and excessively made within a lineage of white male Hollywood cinema, these police movies languish in their sentimentality. Forever aiming to affirm there is such a thing as a good cop, the genre is thick with a bastardized notion of the Stoics’ virtuous nature. These films appeal to a washed-out memory, a long burnt out feeling that there is such a thing called human nature. In the grunts of the apologetic reformist, one can witness the historical subject of the political economy loving the cop not as a figure, but as a mode of governance. This is seen in media soundbites about crime waves in New York, as if the police can save anyone from the crime they create. It is within this conditioned insanity that we inquire how cop films aid in the rendering of active minds into a passive subordination to the police? Cop movies have historically gone out of their way to imply the future will bring a better version of life, but only through the vector of policing. The pundits and politicians remind us that the present and future will always hold a place for cops. As they stand behind their blue lines of brutality and smile at us with a glowing grill of whiteness, the percussive bangs ring out and another battle of this war commences. Conversely, it is within this framing that we aim to look at an anti-cop film, titled La Haine (1995).
Within the progressive bend, film is an ongoing method of institutional codification and domination on the level of body - mind and forms of life - community. Lenin and Goebbels were both well aware of its spellbinding power. The 1995 French film La Haine, written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, begs certain questions, and opens other intensities around the way films depict police and class violence. The film, titled The Hate in English, cinematically ruminates upon the ways society, class, capital, and cops fuck with people on the margins. It is precisely hatred and grief that drive these 3 friends – Vinz, Hubert and Saiid – through the spontaneity of a Parisian day. The friends move through the grief, anger, and confusion around what to do in response to the cops beating and fatally hospitalizing their friend Abdel. They wander in some cinematic iteration of derive or a Benjaminian visualization of his One-Way Street, while trying to overcome these all too real emotions. Only sporadically do they come in contact with the more fearful, bourgeois spaces of Paris, almost always followed by the forces of order. The friends in their own way find themselves reckoning with hate. It is within this realization; that hate becomes a positive affect operating as a catalyst to stasis. Hate is what causes the friends to move. Hate, like a long subterranean tunnel void of light and saturated in a dewy fog, must be passed through and never inhabited. To say you hate the police, is to gesture a love for life. Not as some passive nihilism but rather an active force pushing life into the opening of newness and care. Into a terrain where police strategies cannot touch the plateau of an ungovernable communism. A communism that witnesses and confronts the war of everyday life imbedded in the colonial capitalism of citizenry.
Gilles Deleuze addresses the power of cinema in two books titled Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. He further elaborates this in a talk titled, What is the Creative Act? In these collected works, Deleuze sets out to better understand cinema, the creative act, and how, if at all, resistance relates to these gestures. Deleuze puts forth, to varying degrees, the idea that film is inherently generative. Not as a blind mechanical reproduction of control and domination, but in the form of breaking from hegemonic thought. Film opens an experience, via sight and physical feeling, to create an organization of relation that the viewer has to the film. A potential process of de-codification. Consequently, cinema generates a line of flight. Deleuze writes in a What is the Creative Act?:
“This is a cinematographic idea. It is exceptional because it ensures a veritable transformation of elements at the level of cinema, a cycle that suddenly makes cinema resonate with the qualitative physics of the elements. It produces a kind of transformation, a vast circulation of elements in cinema starting with air, earth, water and fire. Everything I am saying does not eliminate its history. The history of cinema is still there, but what strikes us is why this history is so interesting, unless it is because it has all of this behind it and with it. In the cycle I have just quickly defined—the voice rising while what the voice is talking about drops under the ground—you may have recognized most of Straubs' films, the great cycle of the elements in their work. We only see the deserted ground, but this deserted ground seems heavy with what lies underneath it. You might ask: How do we know what lies underneath it? That is precisely what the voice is telling us. As if the earth were buckling from what the voice is telling us; it is that which comes to take its place underground when ready. If the voice speaks to us of corpses, of the lineage of corpses which comes to take its place underground at that moment, then the slightest whisper of wind on the deserted land, on the empty space that you have before your eyes, the smallest hollow in this earth will all take on meaning.”
Cinema, like resistance, is generative. Generative in its capacities to reorganize and resonant. The Invisible Committee likened insurrection not to a raging wildfire consuming land in a linear fashion, but to that of musical resonance. Strings are plucked simultaneously to create chords, but some strings will vibrate even when they are not plucked. We resonate with the destruction of domination and obsession in our lives. La Haine (1995) admittingly misses the mark in identifying the way domination shows up in our relationships. The film intentionally downplays women for the sake of highlighting a testosterone-fueled, male populated frenzy. The three friends are coded with an overbearing masculinity. The cinematic memories of Moonlight (2016), Taxi Driver (1976), Joker (2019), and Fight Club (1999) all gesture towards how unbridled male bravado runs along a path of aggression and egomania. This is embodied in Vincent Cassel’s character, Vinz. Most explicitly this is portrayed in two ways: his ongoing, egotistical obsession with killing a cop, and the consistent, wide-angled shots of Vinz throughout the film. This framing, such as those in the mirror or in front of a wall of television screens, recants the shots of Robert DeNiro’s iconic portrayal of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976). Perhaps these are fragmentary cinematic elucidations operating as markers on the descent of Vinz’s mental and emotional state as he plummets further into hate. Kassovitz in an interview compares his early self to that of Vinz, in the way he was so incensed and angered by what was happening to friends who were black and brown at the hands of the police. In a sort of meta twist, Kassovitz also shows up in his own film as the skinhead the friends take hostage.
Vinz’s character seems to function and be positioned as a counterpoint to that of Hubert. Hubert as the kind, driven, saddened friend who is dreaming of a way out. We watch Hubert try in all the ways he knows to escape the death and misery that surrounds him in the banlieue. Hubert, calm and collected, operates as a mitigator to the group. Ironically, it seems Hubert’s love of his friends and his community in the banlieue, is what keeps him trapped in place. It should also not be forgotten that these bonds were formed within an everyday struggle of the hatred of the cops and against institutional racism, but also as an affirmation of a shared life. It is interesting to think of all three characters as attributes of the same person. As though they each embody an internal thought process: Hubert – rational and calm, Vinz – wild and angry, Saiid – comedic and cunning. However, its Hubert’s dream that is all their dream. It is the dream of not being fucked over by pigs. The dream of having a chance to live a happy and vital life. The hope to see your loved ones grow old together. This is not just an ideal dream, but the makeup of a revolutionary force. When institutions and police prevent people from living, by the very fact of constantly killing, they leave the precariat nothing left to do but to turn their anger onto the situation.
The story which Hubert tells, of the man falling from a building and as he passes each floor he says, “So far so good” speaks to the precarity many live within under the political economy. A constant mitigating and maneuvering of the murderous hold capital enact upon life. So far so good because no death has befallen them. So far so good because they have their friends, still. So far so good seems to be a mantra of survival in the face of the endless horror of colonial capitalism especially for those within the endless historical wreckage of western civilization. But, as Hubert says, “it’s how you land.” Our landing is to ground ourselves in what the battle in front of us presents. To use our communalized dreams as a collective understanding that a better world is possible. As Deleuze wrote, “The dream of those who are dreaming concerns those who are not dreaming (Deleuze, What is the Creative Act?).” Saiid seems to understand this reality all too well, when he changes the billboard to no longer say “the world is yours”, but instead to say, “the world is ours.” These friends show us in some cinematic way what Moten and Harney mean when they describe the Undercommons. In the ways they care for each other and the care that is extended in the banlieue to other people. We can see this now, in the myriad ways refugees show up for one another precisely because the state disregards them. This is not an institutionalized form of care. It is a care that rises out of the necessity and understanding that we need to help each other. That solidarity is an act or better said, a gesture. A ‘we’ that is the everyday gesture of a communism without a State.
Cop movies run the gamut in their cinematic portrayal of the good cop/bad cop dichotomy. To the point of making a flaccid victimization of cops through the anti-hero method in films like Bad Lieutenant (both versions 1992 and 2009), Dark Blue (2002), Touch of Evil (1958) to the more positioned ‘good hearted’ protagonist cop in movies like Cop Land (1997), Training Day (2001), and Serpico (1973). This cinematic victimization of cops is treated as one going up against something too big or too large to move or change. In some sad and nihilistic turn of events they lose hope and resonance with the world to become monsters. I posit rather, that it is their choices that led these characters to becoming cops in the first place. That is the source of their ethical rift and existential fall-out. Cops rarely, if ever, find a consistency with their own discreet form of life that isn’t some passive reification of fascistic or authoritative domination. The very structure police officers inhabit is the very structure to which makes cops monsters. There is no such thing as good policing to the point that there is no such thing as a good cop, precisely because they made a conscious choice and stuck to that decision to choose the side of order over that of life. It is from this perspective, that an opening for another larger inquiry presents itself - which will not happen here - into films that deal with police procedurals by trying to pit a good cop versus a bad cop. In some ways, this feels cinematically indicative of the Japanese New Wave trend of pitting a rogue samurai against their clan and master. Yet another method might be the tactic of broadcasting the inner thoughts of individual cops, personifying good cop and bad cop as an internal tension. Maybe some real officers go through this, but it seems a tad paradoxical to imply that cops relate to world through a form of reflective ethical thinking. It would seem if they did that there would be no cops on the force.
La Haine (1995) does a lot for its time. The film’s oozing aggression is mirrored in the way form is taking shape within the movie. With the film, Kassovitz activates a stylized social realism. Set within a single day, the film deploys time as an intensifying agent. The intermittent time checks, almost operating as an act designator, gives you the feeling that time is running out. La Haine (1995) walks an interesting line between a race against time film and that of a road movie. This feeling is amplified with the sound of a digital ticking clock. As though the entire film is counting down to the ending, to the standoff. Kassovitz said in an interview with the British Film Institute that he had come up with the ending first. He knew it before anything else and built the entirety of the text off of it. His goal was to make the friends be lovable to the viewers so that the end would hit all the harder. Black and white and infused with a playful deployment of fiction and nonfiction imagery, the film makes its own mark. Like the scorched cement after the fiery combustion of a Molotov, La Haine (1995) forces you to not forget what came before. It makes the viewer remember. That justice is a state of the world which is always attached to remembrance. Interestingly, aside from the opening footage, the only other times we see images of riots in the film are when the friends are watching it on a screen. This has a strong meta component to its self-reflexive enactment of the virtual and the real. The ethical question to this relationship, seems to be spoken as aural motif throughout the film. It’s how you land in relation to action and simulation, community and isolation, solidarity, and restraint.
The landing as a shifting answer located within difference and support seems to be the very question that any real communist thought must interrogate as an ethical relation to presence, care, and struggle. This communism exists as the existence of these attributes, communalized gestures of living-in-war. When Vinz shows us that he found the cop’s gun, we get a similar effect. We know nothing will be the same from here on. In a way, Vinz is also enacting a passage Deleuze wrote in Postscript on Societies of Control, “There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.” How do we land in a dynamic and open way, while remaining staked to the battles at hand? How do we find, nurture, and communalize the very act of living around each other in difference and support? It isn’t to say the banlieue enacts this fully, but it is clear, as stated in writings around the undercommons, a camaraderie comes out in struggle. La Haine (1995) has an interesting mirror in a more recent French film titled Les Miserables (2019). Les Miserables (2019) takes place in a banlieue and is centered around how cops treat the youth. The ending of Les Miserables (2019) bares a strong resemblance to that of La Haine (1995). But it seems as though the power dynamic flips in the former. Both focus on the resistance that comes out of hatred for this current order of exploitation and death. Hate burns like a fire within us. A fire which aims it combustive inferno at that in which holds us to misery, domination, and abusive patterns of self and relation. Hatred needs also to be learned, perfected, sharpened, and used as a weapon within our arsenal. A tool that equips us with a veracious intensity only to leave it when it no longer serves us. Connection and building capacities of communalizing a revolutionary love as a force of active resistance has a strong vital resonance to it. Love is not a singular form. It exists as multiplicity. As the brilliant James Baldwin put it regarding solidarity and connection: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”