Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Pawnbroker (1965)

The Pawnbroker is one of the greatest character studies I have ever seen. It tells the story of Sol Nazerman(Rod Steiger), a German-Jewish university professor who survives imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp, only to see his wife, children, friends, everything that he ever loved taken away from him in the most brutal and terrifying ways possible. We observe Sol, twenty years on, living and working in Harlem, New York City.

He runs a pawnshop, and encounters every sort of scumbag and cretin around. A coke head selling his mothers radio for a lousy two dollars for his next fix, a racketeer who uses Sol and his business as a front for his own shady dealings, and then there are people that basically visit Sol just for the conversation, just to hear themselves talk, and feel connected to someone. But Sol is on his own planet altogether. What he has done is subconsciously rid himself of any emotion whatsoever. He's gone totally numb from the experiences he's had. If you can imagine having everything you ever knew, everyone you ever loved being, witness the death of all of that, and to survive it all, just try and imagine how in the world someone could cope with that. What would you do? You now run a pawnshop, a guy comes in to your store, tries to start up a conversation about the weather or some shit, and you're thinking about that day you saw your wife raped by German officers. Or seeing your best friend chased by Alsatians then beaten to death with clubs. You'd be living in hell for the rest of your life. I can't begin to imagine how it really feels, but I can understand on my own basic level.

Basically this movie is seriously depressing. It's brutal. There's no redemption or salvation from his life and it's terrifying to witness. And just thinking about the fact that there are millions of Sol Nazerman's out there in the world who have their own stories to tell is just frightening, and really scares the shit out of me. And the way that life has that tendency to repeat itself over and over again throughout every decade and century is just.....oh my goooooood.......aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh! I know this is just a movie, but it really effected me on a personal level, OK to a waaaaaaaaaaay lesser degree than Sol Nazerman, but I can still connect enough with the basic feelings of it. It's one of those movies that just really hits you with a ton of bricks, and leaves you shattered. The movie that comes closest to it in my mind is American History X, or in terms of the study of loniless would be Taxi Driver. That kind of film. Really makes you think. So if you wanna be depressed for the next month or so, watch the Pawnbroker! But honestly it's one of the best movies I've seen, with one of the most convincing performances I've ever had the privilege to witness thanks to Rod Steiger.

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