I want to start off by saying that this is not a review of the film Imperium itself, but a more personal perspective on the impact this film had on me. I thought the film was very well put together and well acted, and, although it was one of the most uncomfortable film experiences I’ve ever had, I felt that for a reason. The story itself, for those who don’t know, sees Daniel Radcliffe going undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group in search of radioactive material, working his way up the ladder while using his research and smooth talking to navigate the many dangerous situations he finds himself in.
I also want to say that I will give an attempt to write a spoiler-free post concerning the film, but I may be giving away one or two details of the plot, so be forewarned.
I remember about a year ago in the Fall of 2015, the collective squeeing of the Richmond, Virginia area to hear that Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, was going to be filming a movie in town. I’ll admit, when I heard the rumor that he was staying at the hotel down the street from me, I may have gone out of my way to pass by on the off chance he was having a drink in the lobby or gracing the sidewalk with his presence. I also remember seeing the casting call for young men willing to buzz their heads in order to appear as an extra in the film. In all honesty, I couldn’t find the courage to do so, despite being desperate for some work in my field.
Finally the other night, I was able to go see Imperium at the premiere event in Richmond, not knowing exactly what to expect. As I said in the beginning, it was not an easy watch. Many times throughout the film, the characters use incredibly racist terms as casually as they would someone’s name, Jewish conspiracies are stated as if they are well-known fact, and burning crosses and swastikas are a staple throughout the whole film. While I was so tense that I occasionally looked around at the audience to see if anyone was walking out, I realized that the purpose was to make you feel the discomfort of Radcliffe’s character and the struggle to keep up his facade. I did find moments of relief, though, when seeing very familiar locations to me in Richmond being posed as locations in Washington, D.C. My favorite being the use of the DMV on Broad St. near the Science Museum as the headquarters for the FBI.
Now, maybe it was the fact I recognized these locations that made the film seem to hit home, but I think it was more complicated than that.
It’s very unlikely that anyone reading this article is a stranger to the problems with racism we have in this country. You would have to be deliberately blind to miss the more public events bringing up this topic. In this day and age, it seems hard for us to believe that these issues are still so prevalent, but they are and they are dangerous.
In the film,there are many points where very public rallies and marches are held with members wearing Nazi uniforms, waving confederate flags and making speeches about the “White Genocide”. This may seem like an exaggeration, because most of us have never seen or been to such an event, but they happen. There was an event that resulted in several people injured which occurred only two months ago in Sacramento, CA (via CNN).
Here is another example: footage of a march in Los Angeles in 2010 that was met with protesters, one that again closely resembles the events in the film. While I was interested in finding a video interviewing the members of the marching party, this video at least features footage from the event itself:
Not only do these rallies happen, but they are planned in peoples’ homes, living rooms and kitchens, as shown in a scene of Imperium, in which Radcliffe’s character ends up in the home of an engineer, Gerry Conway (Sam Trammell), who is a lover of music, has two kids, wears a slew of unintimidating sweaters, and of course is passionately dedicated to starting a race war that will eradicate Jews and blacks. It’s almost comedic when Radcliffe first enters the house, is immediately offered a dessert by Conway’s wife and has Conway’s children show him the treehouse where they will go when the “mud people” come. Up to this point, all the people Radcliffe’s character comes in contact with are nothing more than street thugs, assaulting mixed-race couples in parking lots and talking a lot about “the cause”, so this scene really is significant in showing that you wouldn’t be able to pick a racist out of a crowd, it’s never that easy.
One character that is the focus of speculation in the film is a radio host who goes by the stage name Dallas Wolf, representing a set of media moguls and political figures, much like we’ve seen in recent days, who have brought a certain mentality into the public spectrum. The perpetuation of this mindset focuses on one thing, something Imperium finds its way back to in the end, which is the idea of victimization. When these voices speak loudly and often enough, people resort to blaming others or other groups of people for the problems they face, or the fear they feel. Really, all it comes down to is fear.
In the end, Radcliffe’s character makes a much-needed break in the investigation when he tells a member of the white supremacist group he is infiltrating his worries about trying to change the world. When he does, he realizes that his own frustration is similar to their struggle, a hope to change the world for what they see as a better way. It’s at this point Radcliffe’s investigation finally finds traction and he is trusted enough to gain full access to what he has been looking for the whole film. While Radcliffe’s goal and the goal of the white supremacists differ greatly, they find common ground in the idea that they both want the world to be a better place. One is significantly more violent, illegal, extreme and deadly, but they both share the same core desire. In coming to terms with that, Radcliffe is able to relate to them, as Collette’s character pushes him to, and he moves further towards stopping a dangerous attack.
Imperium has an uncomfortable relevance to our time, with the clashes between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, certain people and Muslims, neo-Nazis and Jews, that are still prevalent. What Imperium tries to do, though, is make us face the fact that those with differing opinions, worldviews, and beliefs are still just that: people. While they may hate, threaten and provoke others, they are still people – people who live among us. Nowadays, this is something all sides must remember, keeping in mind that generalization, stereotyping and fear is exactly what perpetuates these conflicts.