Blinded by the Light

I saw this film a few nights ago with Rory. We originally wanted to go see Detective Pikachu, but we ended up going to see Blinded by the Light instead.This was a film I was interested in, and Rory thought it looked good, too.

With a ’90s feel to the cinema, we meandered through the light traffic of movie-goers to our spot, pop and popcorn in hand. I liked the feel of the theater, one that was updated but nostalgic at the same time.

When we got to our reclining seats, I knew only a little of the plot: Javed, a teenager living in the small British town Luton in the late ’80s, feels out of place among nationalist Brits who don’t like having Pakistani immigrants around. Jay is teased, and at one point in the film, spit on by a boy who graffiti-ed the words PAKI SCUM on a nearby wall. The racial slur and the British boy’s message is clear: racism is alive and well in the ’80s in Luton.

I love the premise of the movie: a teenager finds meaning and a powerful connection through the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Javed uses these about growing up poor in a blue-collar working class to help him with his problems at home: when his dad gets laid off work, when he’s harassed by neighbor kids because of his race, his sense that he doesn’t belong in Luton, and his personal struggle with his dad about whether or not writing is a worthy profession. Because his dad loses his job, Jay’s mother must work extra hours, sewing clothes for other people in their neighborhood to try to make ends meet. His three sisters worry what will happen to their family, a worry that torments Jay as well.

As things become more bleak at home–Jay is unable to find work, his father has his mother pawn some of her gold jewelry for money–and Jay struggles to help his family make ends meet, he finds comfort and surprising truth in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. One night, a stressed Jay pops in a Springsteen tape and listens to “Blinded by the Light” for the first time. When he hears “Blinded by the Light” for the first time, he is awestruck by the raw and relatable lyrics. Filled with sudden energy, he throws on a jacket and walks around town in a thunderstorm, drinking in the lyrics.

Having “popped his Bruce cherry,” as his good friend Roops says, Javed is now hopelessly obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. Drawn to Bruce’s lyrics, Javed uses these newfound lyrics to help give him the strength to stand up for himself at home–especially when it comes to his father. Because he and his father do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to Jay’s writing. They also clash when Jay mentions that he won a writing contest and wants to attend a conference, a conference located in America.

When Jay mentions that he’s going to a college in America, his father is outraged and insists that this son will not be going. “America is not safe,” he tells Javed, trying to argue that leaving his small British hometown would be too dangerous.

Javed counters that Luton is just as unsafe as anywhere else in the world. “There are gangs and people who hate us,” he replies, talking about his hometown. (I’m paraphrasing what I remember of their argument, so forgive me if the words aren’t exactly accurate.) “But in America, no ones cares where you came from.” Jay argues that in America, everything is better, because of the acceptance there. This was a powerful moment in the film, a reminder to Americans like me watching this of the origins of our country: that we are a nation formed from the backbone of immigration. As a country, America should continue to be a place of acceptance, particularly in the face of the nationalism we’ve been experiencing.

Nationalism is also a theme that Javed and his family face throughout the film. He is targeted because he is a Pakistani youth living in Luton, England. As I’ve mentioned before, he is spit on, and faces various forms of harassment because he is Pakistani. One scene I vividly remember is the white nationalist march that takes place towards the end of the film. As Javed’s family are heading to the community center for his sister’s wedding, they are stopped by the police because there’s a ton of people marching against immigrants, particularly Pakistani immigrants. There are students also protesting the nationalist views, two of whom happens to be friends of Jay’s. There’s even the Nazi salute at one point as men and women march against Pakistani immigrants. This is very relevant, I thought, horrified at seeing the Nazi salute.

This scene is very powerful, because up until now, there’s only been bits and pieces of racism in the film. The racism isn’t harmless, but it’s only hinting at the dangers to come, which happens during the march against immigrants. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I will leave out specifically what happens. It’s scary, to say the least.

Writing is Jay’s way out of his small town. He’s written in a journal since he was ten. At the beginning of the film, when his best friend Matt gets a ten-speed bike, he gets the journal Matt didn’t want. Flashing forward six years later, and Jay is still writing in his journals. He has half a shelf devoted to all of his journals, where he writes prose and poetry. An avid writer, Jay works on his poems throughout the film. He’s even seen jotting down his thoughts at school, where he feels like an outcast: “I don’t have a tribe,” he informs the viewer, as he’s preparing to sit down and eat lunch in the cafeteria.

Jay’s English teacher, Ms. Clay, recognizes his talent when he visits with her after class. He tells her that he writes poetry, and that he’s been writing in a diary since he was ten. Her interest is piqued, and she convinces him to let her read his poetry.

Throughout the school year, Jay clashes with his father about his writing. He would love to go to university for writing, but his father wants him to attend college to get a good job.

Jay’s writing helps him make connections. With the help of Bruce Springsteen, he finds the courage to share his writing and even write for the Herald, a newspaper, where he gets an unpaid internship.

Throughout the film, Jay’s writing helps him. It’s his way to connect with people and make sense of the world. The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen help him make sense of the world as well.

I don’t want to spoil anymore of the plot, but it’s a wonderful story. I even learned a thing or two about Bruce Springsteen, which was fun. I recommend this movie to anyone who loves music and an uplifting story.

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