Monday, January 09, 2006

They call me Mr. Tibbs....
I was surprised and impressed by this movie. The display of racism, hatred and prejudice was unlike any other movie in the genre. All of the white characters doubted, hated, feared, or belittled Virgil (whose very name links him to classical figures). Sam arrests Virgil without questioning him, the chief won't believe this "colored boy" is a police officer, and is totally incredulous of the amount of money he earns ($169.32). Although Mrs. Cobet ends up supporting Virgil, she originally will not let him touch her, and makes him leave her alone. Virgil is harassed and attacked by white men, hit by Mr. Endecot, and kicked out/begged to return on various occasions.
The movie clearly displays the insecurities of the white community, showing that they always refuse to trust Mr. Tibbs. The only man, who really seems to relate to Virgil, is Harvey, the other outcast. Both men find themselves shut out by society, and find themselves locked in a cell together. Later, the chief opens up to Virgil about his loneliness. It seems that only people on the outskirts, only "others" can trust and talk to Virgil. The rest of the white community cannot move beyond their prejudices. Mr. Endicot still has a plantation, African American servants, and a belief that he can hit, control and use African Americans. The clerk at the diner won't serve Virgil. The town uses Virgil because Mrs. Cobert threatens to leave, and take her husbands company, if the Philadelphian is not kept on the case. Virgil is never accepted because he is black; the rampant prejudice of the period is clear in many scenes, explicit in ways that modern movies shy away from.

But white people are not the only ones who are uncomfortable with Virgil. The local black community doesn’t seem to know what to think. The lady who performs abortions tells him that the police will “steal your soul, chew you up, spit you out”. She doesn’t trust Virgil, and sees him as an outsider just the way the white men see him. The black house servant doesn’t relate to him. Virgil seems to be striving to be white, alienating himself from his fellow black men; yet, he will never be white enough to be accepted by the white community. He finds himself in limbo, not part of either social bracket, a true “outsider”. Yet, Virgil gains respect, and the balance of power seems to shift slightly: the town needs him, and he eventually catches the real killer. And even Virgil himself experiences moments of weakness. The police chief accuses Virgil of being “just like everyone else”: an vindictive, angry and biased man who wants to see guilt in those he doesn’t like. In the end though, Virgil is a much calmer, professional and stoic hero than others in the genre, but a hard character to get close to, or actually “like”. He is, in all aspects, a character stuck in limbo.


Post a Comment

<< Home