‘Attica’ Film Review (1980)

June 10, 2024

What is justice? The perennial query into the self-examination of human goodness arrives at such a cinematic climax with the splendorous depiction of inmates which stage a civil protest while interned with the historical portrayal in the film Attica. It is in this emphasis of their ability to affirm their basic human rights, of being more than just chattel confined into prison pens, that forms a brilliant intersection of civil rights and the American hope of justice on Earth.


Yet how is that hope realizable? What makes the Union so confident in its ability to overpower the powerful? Clearly, the film demonstrates a roughnecking, politely speaking, of those without the proper capabilities of exercising their freedom. Yet is that not what prison is fundamentally? A punishing sentence for maldeeds outside of the barbed wired fences and billy clubs of guards who are there for job security? Yet, does prison need to be this inhumane?


It is in this broaching of the subject, where apparently the answer is “eye for an eye” which incites a riotous event to capture the newswires, about a first-in-the-Union’s experience of prisoners taking guards hostage, to utilize them as ransoms for achieving demands per their desires. Are those desires just?


No doubt, the concessions ultimately offered are in the direction of more human dignity than in how the film originates. But the plead for “amnesty”, from abdication of further punishment from the uprising to negotiate more humanity to their corporal existence while “doing time”, sealed the deal for the abrupt end to the political organizing.


It is here where the lines become blurred on political rights after one has been lawfully tried and charged with harmful behavior within the public. Disturbers of the peace to be polite about it. Does that grant the charge, however, by the People of New York (and by extension the Union) the minimal abilities for self-growth? Are they to be flower-peddles to be stepped on – stomped on in fact – because of their past behavior? What about the motivation to encourage peaceful accords with others in the future instead of a rancid memory of being treated which only harms and not heals the general welfare?


The exacerbation of the pleads is intertwined with such potency of broadcast and journalistic media in the portrayal. The film is excellent at illustrating the example of a mob which is aiming at a better life while inside prison. Yet so much of that, either conscientious or not, is in the knowing consistency with civil protests over the last decade of the 1960’s in America. The good cause for advancing civil liberty among all Americans; and not the paper-weighted pretentious veneer of a silent majority; with their ignorant impressions and judgments of the maliciously violent rightly sentenced to this maximum-security prison; convolves with the desires for public image. For pretty appearances of doing good in supporting a righteous cause by those outside helping to foment better standards of life for those within distorts the honest motivations of the inmates to read more.


It is exactly in this tension which, tragically, there is no good outcome to the answer to the prompt. It is exactly here where the difficulties in ascertaining the truth ought to render human judgment to err on the side of kindness. Mercy. Indeed, the lack of physical slaughter by knife by the inmates demonstrates their potential for being human after all.


            Judge not that ye be not judged.

                        -Book of Matthew 7:1


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