Research Paper: Human Behavior Perspectives in Film Menace II Society 1993

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Menace II Society

Human Behavior Perspectives in Film "Menace II Society" (1993)

Caine in Menace II Society

The 1993 film Menace II Society follows Caine during a bloody summer after his high school graduation. Entreated to cruise the streets with his friend, the ticking time bomb O-Dog among others, Caine is drawn into the gritty and dangerous Los Angeles crime scene. Caine is being pulled in two directions. On one side he has his God-fearing grandparents and his good friend Ronnie -- on the other, the legacy left him by his dead, drug-addicted parents -- a despondency handed down like an heirloom -- and the "friends" whom sell drugs, shoot people, and disrespect pretty much everyone they come into contact with. The environment in which he lives inexorably traps Caine. We see his evolution from good child, innocent and pure, to teenage, part-time drug supplier, ambivalent about the more intense forms of criminality, and finally to killer and full-time criminal. Menace II Society is about one black male's conversion into a gangster. Caine's Background

Caine is different from the guys from the 'hood, or at least different from how people outside of the hood would view him. Straight off the bat when Caine narrates about his partner in crime O-Dog, he says: "O'Dog was America's nightmare. Young, black and didn't give a f-." Right away it is apparent that Caine knows that O-Dog isn't a good person; Caine knows the difference between right and wrong. He's smart enough to consider how America looks at young, black men and aptly so, refers to O-Dog as a "nightmare." While Caine openly admits this, it is without judgment that he speaks this truth. Straight on into the opening, O-Dog shoots two store clerks over a chance offense, making Caine an accessory to murder. Caine becomes a victim of his circumstance and, though unjust, it's out of desperate conditions that he becomes this way, though he's smart enough to know what he has gotten himself into (Flory 2008). The film addresses a Kantian-type question when it comes to Caine: "How is it possible for criminals to result from the typically miserable living conditions under which so many impoverished and socially disadvantaged young black men live?" (2008).

Caine loves and respects his grandparents who raised him after his junkie parents died. Right after Caine receives his high school diploma, his grandparents are proudly waiting at home and excited at the chance to tell them how proud and happy he has made them. Caine responds affectionately, nearly basking in their love (Flory 2008). On the other hand, however, Caine finds his grandparent's outlook on life silly and incomprehensible. He finds his grandfather's advice especially irrelevant and riddled with insignificance and platitudes (2008). Nonetheless, he respects them and always treats them with respect.

Early on in the film, when Caine gets out of the hospital after suffering a gunshot wound during the theft of his cousin's car, Caine sits with his grandparents as they watch the Christmas family classic it's a Wonderful Life (Capra 1946) on television. This is where we get a true sense of Caine's fundamentally divergent views from those of his grandparents. The scene gives us an insight into Caine's psychological state. His grandparents smile approvingly at the scene where George Bailey (portrayed by Jimmy Stewart) takes his family into his arms upon returning from his suicide attempt, after the angel Clarence has forced him to take notice of how vitally important he is to the whole community of Bedford Falls. While Caine, undoubtedly, sees the disparity between this fantasy life in Bedford Falls and the life he lives in the ghetto of South L.A., he is also deeply aware of the generation gap between himself and his grandparents. To see Bailey reunited with his perfect white family, everything harmonious once more, causes Caine to shudder with disgust. Interestingly enough, Caine is not unlike Bailey in Capra's film: both are trying to get out of the environment they are so strongly connected to (Gormley 2005). The important factor to consider and the bottom line is that, like Bailey, Caine is powerless. Bailey is fortunate in that he has the help of an angel to put everything back in order, but Caine does not have this and he is very aware of the fact. For Caine, this Hollywood fantasy is so utterly unconceivable and so far-removed from where he is and who he is, that he takes it as an assault. To see his grandparents relishing the film makes matters worse.

developmental experience. Caine goes to live with his grandparents when he is ten years old after his father is shot and killed. Even though Caine lived awash drugs and violence pre-living with his grandparents (at one moment he and his strung-out mother watch as his drug-dealing father shoots a man for no reason), he takes to the more orderly, Christian home that his grandparents have created. From age ten, they infuse Caine with such love that they are able to keep him focused until the end of high school. Once Caine is out on the mean streets of L.A., however, he is as resistant to faith and order and "as keen on violence as his namesake" (Banks Gregerson 2009).

The question that needs to be answered, from a psychology perspective then, is: Why did Caine fail to achieve an honest, violence-free life? If we look at Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development, we can see that at the age of then, when Caine went to live with his grandparents, he was at the end of the psychosocial stage 4 -- industry vs. inferiority. This is the stage that covers the early school years, approximately from ages 5 to 11. When encouraged, children of this age will take pride in their work and grow confident in their sense of accomplishment and abilities. Around age 11, however, adolescence sets in during the fifth stage -- identity vs. confusion. During this time, adolescents are discovering their independence as well as their sense of who they are or sense of self. Caine was at an age when he went to live with his grandparents where he was open to new ways of becoming. His grandparents were a great influence on him in that they encouraged him, instilled strong values and morals within him and gave him loving shelter.

Erikson states that growing and developing adolescents are

…primarily concerned with attempts at consolidating their social roles. They are sometimes morbidly, often curiously, preoccupied with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are, and with the question of how to connect the earlier cultivated roles and skills with the ideal prototypes of the day. In their search for a new sense of continuity and sameness, some adolescents have to refight many of the crises of earlier years, and they are never ready to install lasting idols and ideals as guardians of a final identity (Erikson 1994).

Erikson suggests that what needs to be examined when considering how adolescents grow and learn to identify themselves, it is not a sum of all childhood identifications, but the inner assets accumulated from all those experiences of each successive stage, when meaningful identification led to a successful alignment of the individual's basic drives with his endowment and his opportunities (Erikson 1994).

If we are to think of Caine and -- set aside basic drives -- focus on his endowment as well as his opportunities, what we will see is that while Caine was able to find stability and love in adolescence, his experience is not going to be up of just those eight years or so with his grandparents. There was damage done beyond what any average person can comprehend. The mere thought of seeing your father kill a man for no good reason as your mother sits drugged-up beside you is something that not matter individuals could depart from unscarred. Caine's legacy is one that has been given to him because of his most formative years with a couple of junkie parents. His trust isn't developed like it should be because he could never trust in the two people who were supposed to take the best care of him. While Caine may have been able to take on the identity that his grandparents wanted for him while he was in school, once he is out, the memory of the experience from those years before is too strong -- as is the environment of South L.A. Caine is painfully aware that he is not Jimmy Stewart in it's a Wonderful Life, and while he believes that some people have it in them to believe in that fantasy, he believes that they are, in general, stupid and unaware about how life really is.

One of the questions that Caine considers throughout much of the movies is fundamentally "the most urgent of questions," as Albert Camus described it in, "The Myth of Sisyphus" and it is one… [END OF PREVIEW]

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