Monday, January 07, 2008

In the Heat of the Night

In The Heat of the Night

In dealing with racist material, “In the Heat of the Night” makes interesting statements about racism and prejudice in general. However, it ultimately sends a mixed message, and at least partially endorses judging a person by his or her appearance.

Shortly after the movie opens, we meet Ralph, who is trying to kill a fly on the wall of his dingy little diner. Ralph is immediately portrayed as freakish and creepy. He is hunched over, wide eyed and constantly smiling, especially when those around him are ill at ease. Ultimately, he has no redeeming qualities, and even manages to prove himself as exceptionally racist when he refuses to serve Virgil.

Throughout the rest of the film, Ralph seems to be only a minor character. Instead the focus is on Virgil, who must prove himself both to the chief and the community. His dedication and skill continue to impress others. Even when he lets his guard down and makes faulty assumptions for personal reasons, he is able to recognize his faults and pursue the case further.

As the film progresses, it seems to suggest that the citizens of Sparta, Mississippi should not have judged Virgil based on his appearance. This moral stands strong until the last few minutes of the film, when it is revealed that Ralph is the murderer. From the beginning, Ralph had been portrayed as creepy and unusual, and his guilt as the murderer gives the film a mixed message: Don’t judge based on race, it says, but any assumptions based on appearance in general may be correct.


Blogger Madeline Obler said...

I have to disagree and say I do not think that is the message the film was sending. A murderer is a murderer and, as King wrote in his book, murderers are purposefully portrayed as strange and creepy people. As a murderer, a person is clearly messed up psychologically. Whether or not they show that on the outside depends on the person. You could walk by a murderer on the street and have no idea, but you could also walk by someone and get a strange feeling about them based on their appearance. While the filmmakers could have made Ralph a normal-seeming guy to avoid sending the wrong message, I do not think they made him strange and creepy looking to tell the viewers it is okay to judge someone by their appearance.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Vladigogo said...

As you watch more and more films, you have to ask yourself why certain scenes are in the film and why certain characters are there. In a way this is more of a mystery movie than an action film like Lethal Weapon. We know who the bad guy is in BHC and LW, but here we don't and we have to follow Virgil around to solve the crime. The filmmaker certainly wants to play with us in regard to the various possible villains as we are given a litany, but Ralph certainly does seem to be a strange one unlike everyone else who is relatively normal in a Southern racist kind of way.

9:38 PM  
Blogger natalie said...

While it may not be the biggest point that the film is trying to make I do think you have a point that appearance does have an effect. Mr Tibbs appearance was something of signifigance. So was Ralph's dirty, off, type of appearance. And in the end judgements are made about these apperances.

11:08 PM  

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