After recently re-watching Training Day, my thinking about this film has completely changed. My initial read of the Alonzo Harris character was that he is a contemporary representation of what Donald Bogle calls “the brutal black buck” stereotype; black male characters positioned as animalistic, barbaric, hypermasculine threats to the white establishment (represented of course, by the ultimate “good guy” police officer Jake Hoyt). This is certainly a valid reading in many respects, but it occurred to me that Alonzo is much more subversive in his endeavors as a corrupt police detective. It's easy to dismiss him as the villain, deserving of punishment at the film's end (by Jake shooting him, his community turning their backs on him, and the Russian mafia ultimately gunning him down in the street), but I think it's more important that we read Alonzo as the tragic hero of the film.
Training Day (2001) dir. Antoine Fuqua
Before we get to Alonzo, let's first think about Jake. Jake is such a poorly drawn character, because he's such an excessively good person. He stops the two dope fiends from raping the young girl in the alley, initially balks at smoking the drugs Alonzo gives him, refuses to shoot the former police officer turned drug dealer Roger, and doesn't even have the courage of his convictions to arrest Alonzo during the climactic scene in the film. Now, I'm not saying these aren't noble qualities, or that he shouldn't have saved the damsel in distress, or should have shot Roger to prove he's on the “right” side good/evil, etc., but he never truly stops to listen to what Alonzo really has to say. Jake is caught up in the ideology of the system, so much so that it is clear he has drawn a line between good and evil, and decided that he's going to stay on the side of what he's been told is good, despite the fact that Alonzo is systematically pointing out how flawed the system's notion of good really is (stay in your place, don't question authority, the law is the law, there are no grey areas, and so on). Jake will never make a real difference in fighting crime if his attitude is to do things strictly by the book, and moreover, he's too worried throughout the film about protecting his own career, family, and life to truly effect any real change. He talks a good game, but his actions are empty, and refusing to acknowledge Alonzo's revelations signals his unquestioning allegiance to the system. Alonzo is trying to show Jake that not only is the police force corrupt, but that the patriarchal American system is corrupt. During a key scene at the beginning of the film, Alonzo tells Jake that the newspaper is “90% bullshit,” and that he has to "unlearn the bullshit they teach you at the academy". Alonzo knows that “the nature of the game” is corruption, and that the establishment has all the power. The police force is not exempt from the patriarchal structure that we have created an enabled as a culture. This is exemplified in the scene at the restaurant with the “three wise men”; three older, white, high-ranking police officials through whom all of the illegal business in the police force is facilitated.
Alonzo is acutely aware that he's a product of the system's corruption, and this gives him the impetus to antagonize their authority, which in turn, is why he must be killed. His death alleviates the threat to the system/patriarchy, and functions to restore their power. In his speech at Zuccotti park during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, Slavoj Zizek said that “the true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare.” True justice can only be accomplished by working to destroy the system, and this is what Alonzo is attempting to do. He actively plays by its rules, and participates in its corruption as a means of antagonizing power so that he might initiate true change. We should be rooting for Alonzo. When he is shot down in the street at the films' end, we should view this as the ultimate tragedy, because it kills any chance of unmasking the real criminal element in the film; the patriarchal system that manipulates people like Jake into believing in the
adam p. wadenius
illusion of the system as just, honest, ethical, etc. As Alonzo tells him, you must either be “a wolf or a sheep,” and Jake is just another patrolman in waiting (akin to the one helping a motorist change a tire on the side of the road midway through the film). Jake is the villain. He holds on to the dream that his service will lead to an honest, ethical, moral, peaceful society. He fights Alonzo the whole way, blinded by a false sense of justice that leads him to believe that multiple small acts (locking up a few petty thieves here, a few drug dealers there) actually make a difference in fighting the injustice of the system. Alonzo is awake, leading a team of men intent on destroying the dream of the system.
There's another great quote from one of my favorite horror films, The Cabin in the Woods, where Jules and Marty have the following exchange when they realize that thier adventure has taken them out of cell phone range:
Marty: That's the whole point! Get off the grid, right? No cell phone reception, no entrapment cameras. Go some place for one God damn weekend where you can't globally position my ass. Okay, this is the whole issue…
Jules: Is society crumbling, Marty?
Marty: “No, society is binding. Right? It's filling in the cracks with concrete. Everything's filed or reported, logged, right? Chips in our kids heads so they won't get lost. Society needs to crumble. We're all just too chicken shit to let it.”
Alonzo wants society to crumble, but Jake, and more importantly we (through our identification with Jake), are too chicken shit to let it. This is also why the community abandons him at the end of the film. They remain complicit in their own subordination, just like Jake. They don't really want to face the reality of the system, because it means giving up everything they have to combat it. We desire living a life outside of the system, patriarchy, the 1%, structure, ideology, authority, etc., but none of us want to truly give up the comforts of our lives and culture to achieve true freedom.
posted on 10/27/15 by apw