There’s this moment in GREEN ROOM when Pat, the lead singer, turns around and tells his band The Ain’t Rights what song they’re going to start the night with. Out in the crowd, attendees look on as their patience grows audibly thin. This punk band from god-knows-where is invading their shithole bar out in the middle of nowhere, and they’re anything but happy about it. What should be an intimidating and defeating moment for The Ain’t Rights turns out to be their last great moment together. The song in question is a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”; an intensely political song that’s used like a planted flag to establish themselves in a room full of boots and braces as the greatest punk band of all fucking time.
I remember asking director Jeremy Saulnier about that scene. Ignorantly, I assumed The Ain’t Rights were antagonizing the crowd; going so far as to suggest that perhaps if they didn’t take it that far they might have avoided what transpired over the course of the film. Mr. Saulnier explained what seems obvious to me now in hindsight. That this was a type of jailhouse posturing. The Ain’t Rights were standing up for themselves and demanding respect from the hostile crowd. Growing up in my part of Brooklyn, the punk movement didn’t really penetrate my bubble, but I did have hip-hop. And like hip-hop, punk is inherently about speaking truth to power. The Ain’t Rights showed their strength as a response to adversity. They didn’t run. They didn’t placate. They stood up against hate, and for a brief moment, they triumphed.
These days, given our current political environment, GREEN ROOM resonates more now than I could have ever imagined. Pat, played by the late, great Anton Yelchin is perfect as a regular guy that just wants to hang with his friends and rock out. As someone who utterly rejects our current administration (btw, my opinions are mine, I don’t speak for my team, etc, etc.) I’ve thought of that Dead Kennedys’ cover song often. I know, like in GREEN ROOM, there will be losses. We have travel bans being enforced, science being denied, and vicious behavior being normalized. Just like in GREEN ROOM, the odds feel overwhelmingly stacked against some of us. And these days we take what we can get. I am Pat’s enduring spirit, I can accept losing some battles as long as we stand for something and make it out alive.
In GREEN ROOM, the antagonist, Darcy, who is expertly played by the one and only Patrick Stewart, is a cold and calculated man–almost admirable in his efficiency. The type of man that smiles in your face while his underling twists the blade into your ribs. That underling is probably bar owner Gabe. Gabe is the type of guy that’ll dig the knife in deeper as his boss smiles gleefully in your face. Darcy is far more than the brains of the operation. He has status and reach, that not only gives them influence but also credibility. If Darcy says jump, you jump. He’s the face of every man that’s ever wanted to conquer the world. He is beguiling and reserved, which lends to him being a leader. When the culture wars begin, it’ll be Darcy that leads them every step of the way. That cold calculation is one of the most intriguing parts of GREEN ROOM. We watch Darcy as he keeps his moves two steps ahead of everyone else. He anticipates the reaction to his actions before he makes his next move. He weaves a web that gives the movie a strong foundation of logic and pragmatism.
Above all else, what GREEN ROOM gets right on so many levels is the overwhelming feeling of despair the band finds themselves in. This isn’t about their political views. This is about their survival. They found themselves in a horrifying situation; unwittingly witnessing violence on such a level that essentially runs them out of town. They don’t want to solve the mystery. They don’t want to be heroes. They simply want to survive and to exist another day. I’m sure there are a lot of us that can relate to The Ain’t Rights. We see stories of reluctant heroes all the time. People that have found ways to not only survive but to inspire others to be heroes in their own right. Enter Amber.
Other than Pat, Amber (who is played exquisitely by Imogen Poots) is my favorite character in GREEN ROOM. Right from the jump, we can see she has a complicated relationship with Darcy’s crew. Is she part of them? Is she a victim? I watch on as she navigates this complicated situation wondering what role she’ll play as the story unfolds. Jeremy Saulnier is a skilled writer. He’s capable of adding subtle complexities into his characters. Amber is no different. We’re all Amber right now, caught in the middle of a struggle we didn’t ask for. We’re being asked to stand up in the face of hostility and scream fuck off. If we do it or not is up to us, as it was up to her.
The ending to GREEN ROOM is also something of a triumph in storytelling. Things don’t end in a boom. The Ain’t Rights don’t save the world Captain America-style from a fascist future. They simply leave their mark. They refuse to go quietly into that night. They refuse to give in. This idea leads me to this thought that I’ve been mulling over lately; especially this week. What do we do with all the nazis?
I’m not being glib, I’m being honest. Yes, we can and will push back against them, but we aren’t going to exile them from the country. We aren’t going to feed them to the dogs. We’ll make sure we’re always there to counter their hate, but then what? Do we simply hope they go away? For every Big Justin taking orders, there is a calculating Darcy that’s giving them. The Darcys of the world are smart enough and determined enough to push the limits of what we as a society are willing to tolerate.
I’m not going to pretend I have the answer to that one. I both hate what’s going on in the world today and love what GREEN ROOM reveals about the human spirit. GREEN ROOM is about the struggle to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds. But it’s also specifically about fighting back against Neo-Nazis and hate groups of their ilk. It’s chilling that it feels more relatable today than it did when it came out in May last year. So I take it all in stride. I watch as the Pats and Ambers of the world turn into heroes and watch as others learn from them. So no, I don’t have the solution to the world’s problems, but hopefully GREEN ROOM can at least inspire some of us to stand up in the face of hate and tell it to fuck off.