While I’m not particularly fond of most of his music, I do view Marshall Mathers, AKA Eminem, to be a genius. Or at least his marketing agent is. I also find Eminem and the public’s fascination with him to be the most intriguing facet of celebrity culture today. Needless to say, I’ve been curious about “the Eminem movie” for months. And while I have gotten the chance to see 8 Mile, little of my pondering has been quenched; Eminem remains an enigma.
Rabbit (Eminem) is a struggling rapper trying to escape the poverty stricken section of Detroit he calls home. It’s a sad and depressing place where drugs, run-down homes and welfare are the norm. Even sadder is the cycle of poverty none of the area’s residents seem to escape from. Rabbit sees his music as his chance to break the cycle and move on. He doesn’t seek fame as much as he does a stable life. His mother (Kim Bassinger) is a constant reminder of everything he doesn’t want to be. She lives in a trailer, has an abusive boyfriend and looks to bingo as a way to meet rent.
Rabbit’s musical potential as a musician are limitless except for the fact that he’s overcome with stage fright every time he goes to battle with other local rappers at a popular bar. This leads to ridicule from a rival group, much like Daniel being bullied by the Cobra Kai dojo baddies in The Karate Kid. Despite some gentle nagging from his friends, Rabbit remains in his shell when the pressure is high.
While I can’t say for certain whether the portrayal of Detroit poverty is accurate or not, it certainly comes across as authentic and this is both the film’s greatest strength and, potentially, biggest weakness. The setting is dark, grim and gritty, a prison without guards for all who live there. Director Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys, LA Confidential) offers little hope to those looking for something better. It’s depressing, not only in the context of the film but also for what happens after the film ends. It’s unlikely that many leave the district but they continue to dream. Rabbit is the only person in the film who does something about leaving. Everyone else talks, but there’s no action to back it up.
The potential problem lies in whether or not Hanson exploits poverty to offer the money-paying audience assurance and safety in the fact that they don’t live in such a situation. Bassinger is an awkward stereotype of trailer-park trash, complete with housecoat and strung out attitude. Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones) generates laughs primarily because of his apparent, but never elaborated upon, slow mental abilities. He’s careless and speaks without thinking. His frequent unintentional mishaps are simple comic relief for an otherwise heavy film. Making a realistic film set in a poor neighborhood provides for touchy material and while I do think Hanson is sensitive to it overall, there are moments where I question his not only his sensitivity but his intentions as well. 8 Mile deals with depressing subjects. By tossing in some comedy every now and again it does lighten the mood somewhat, but as a viewer it made me feel a sense of thankfulness that I don’t have to live there. Maybe its more a combination of guilt and a testament to Hanson’s effectiveness.
Much has been said about Eminem’s acting in 8 Mile. But I think he’s been doing the same performance ever since he made his first big splash on MTV (and Muchmusic up here in Canada). Rabbit is simply an extension of the Slim Shady persona that’s been hopping around on stage for years. So why all of a sudden is Mr. Mathers a revelation, destined to mentioned alongside classics like Brando or Dean? It’s hardly anything new, folks and if more of his critics had seen his videos and listened to his music before they criticized him for his controversial music they might have seen this a while back. Old shtick or not, Eminem is powerful. He’s got the tense seriousness, a sympathetic teddy bear side and an intensity in his rap performances. It’s just nothing new for Eminem, so it shouldn’t be a revelation of any kind.
Hanson leaves many things left unsaid. While he brings the film to a satisfying closure, he doesn’t ramble on to a perfect Hollywood ending. But Rabbit’s story arc in the movie comes full circle and at that exact moment Hanson cuts the film off. I admire him for not tacking on a happy afterward for the sake of a kissy-kissy moment or a glimpse into the future. Everyone is entering an uncertain future and whether or not the characters try to break the circle of poverty that haunts them is all part of the ambiguity.
Whether 8 Mile is an accurate portrayal of Mashall Mathers’ past is irrelevant. This movie is the biography of Mathers’ persona so fact or fiction is irrelevant. Like him or hate him, the legend of Eminem has been told and cemented in time.
8 Mile Gallery