Jews and Skinheads: reflections on “Steal Toes”

I just got done watching the movie, Steel Toes. Its a Canadian independent film, directed by David Gow, and based on a play he has also written. Although it was clearly very low budget and there are not all that great of reviews out there, I found it incredibly profound. In the movie, there is a neo-Nazi skinhead, Mike Downey, who kills a man from India and is on trial. His lawyer, Danny Dunkleman (David Straithaim), is Jewish and the entire movie basically focuses on their interactions and character development. Danny, the lawyer, is convinced that he is going to make his racist client feel the pain as much as possible so he makes him do his own work on creating his defense. 

They have many face-offs, many arguments, and it gets to a point where Mike is about to break down. His defenses continually come out of a great self-pity, much hatred, and “watered-down” skin head ideology. Danny will not stand for it. He is unbending. Probably at one of the most profound moments, Mike stands up and unleashes a tirade of memorized brainwash ideas, expressing his hatred for the Jews and his unwaivering loyalty to the Arian race. All of a sudden he realizes what he is saying. He breaks… he vomits… he bawls his eyes out. He cannot get off the floor. He has finally broken through and is faced with the weight of what he has done and the brainwashing that has fed into his actions.

The young man in this movie was in his twenties and was lucky enough to have someone to help him see who he really was… the good that was still there. I have a strong belief that the first 20 years of our lives are so formative that by the time we are able to actually realize what our environments have done to us, it takes us the remainder of our lives to figure out who we really are underneath all the crap that has been piled on us. (I won’t even get started on the systemic brainwashing that happens…) Some are fortunate to have help, some have to face it on their own… some never get below the surface to know who they really are. They remain mirrors of their environments… puppets to times past, people exercising control, and a self-image that is formed not from personal value, or God-given value, but from others needs to validate themselves.

The most amazing thing about Steel Toes was that this lawyer sacrificed everything to help this young skin head. His Jewish friends called him a “liberal Jew” because he wanted to defend a Nazi. His wife left him. He basically went crazy for two months when the trial was over.  All because his father had told him that he must not fight back. He must love and do good to those who seek to do bad to him. With this duty came incredible sacrifice. It was almost as though he sacrificed his religiousity as well. Danny says in the end, “I try to pray and I find myself hating you.”

To which Mike, the EX-skinhead says, “You can’t do anything to hurry this… it takes a long time… Eventually, you forgive yourself to a small extent… you begin to find pleasure in small things.” He also says, “Through this whole thing, I have learned a few things. If this man was willing to help me, how could he be a spawn of Satan? Danny took an interest in me… gave me another chance, as did my victim in what he said on my behalf… and after all of it… I hope, and I hope, and I hope.”

Here was a young man who was so brainwashed. Racially, religiously, by friends, mentors, experience. He was so covered in crap. And it was because of forgiveness by people totally different than him, a Jew and a Hindu, that he was broken and able to live as his true self. Beautiful.

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