After almost twenty years, Romper Stomper is still one hell of a movie. Powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking, it explores racism, outcasts, and many other issues. All the while being very engaging and exciting. It’s inspired by true events, revolving around the notorious skinhead gang leader Dane Sweetman. Along with American History X, it remains one of the two best movies on the subject of skinheads. While the latter deals with a more structured skinhead architecture, Romper Stomper shows us the side we usually cannot see. We are an insider, watching this group live on the fringes of society. They don’t have any contact with the official system of values or authority. Director Geoffrey Wright decided to use an unbiased approach to storytelling, where we can watch events unfold without social commentary.
Actually, large portions of this movie could be viewed as cool and enticing. In this sense, Romper Stomper is perhaps a more dangerous movie than American History X. Mostly because it focuses on the characters and their nihilistic behavior, leaving much of the philosophy up to the viewer. However, to call it pro-skinhead would be deeply offensive to everything they tried to do here. You simply cannot understand this subject properly if you do not know what’s actually going on. And that requires a movie to show what motivates people to do these things. Starring young Russell Crowe, who fought like a lion to get this part, and Daniel Pollock, who committed suicide before the movie was released (unfortunately he was battling heroin addiction and depression), the entire cast was phenomenal.
In Footscray, one of the Melbourne suburbs, there’s a gang roaming about. They are a skinhead gang, living outside the society in abandoned buildings, drinking beer, and beating up immigrants. Led by ruthless Hando they want to transform Australia into something else. They feel the immigrants are taking over their country and want to see them gone. And when a bar they frequent ends up in the hands of a Vietnamese family, things escalate.
There’s no doubt that Romper Stomper is a provocative movie. It could be nothing less if it wanted to explore these issues. Authentic and raw, this is one of those movies you’re going to remember. Certain scenes are quite disturbing and shot in such a way that you can’t but feel that queasy feeling in your stomach. The movie opens with a couple of young immigrants going through a dark underpass when they stumble upon Hando and his gang. This feeling of violent thugs lurking in the dark is a quite relatable one. On the other hand, it’s just so damn interesting to explore these characters. To see what makes them tick and how they deal with issues. How do you end up worshiping Nazi ideology? How the fuck does that happen?
If you’re looking for a movie to bring you up to speed about this whole skinhead thing, this is it. Most skinheads nowadays use protests and festivals to make their presence known. They’ve become much more secretive and adapted to the new conditions. If you want to know more about current skinhead groups check out this 60 Minutes Australia report. It is pretty obvious what’s happening: young and insecure males are looking for a firm system of values that will enable them to gain the respect of their fellow men but also to get self-respect. The whole thing then becomes a standard-issue tribal gathering, basically a circle-jerk around a monolith system of values.
There’s a ruling structure with the strongest and smartest of them at the helm, guiding them through the treacherous waters of life. The scariest thing about the story is the fact that it’s true. You cannot deny that young men feel empowered when they join a structure like this. Of course, all the conditions in the lives of these young men have to be “right” for them to join such an ideology. However, deteriorating conditions in each country and on a global scale provide a relatively big number of potential members.
The second part of this equation is something that some people missed altogether, especially those who are saying that this movie is pro-skinhead. Their actual lives are pretty crappy and they are almost certain to end up either in jail or dead. This is a lousy prospect for anyone but a relative improvement for those who are suffering. It doesn’t matter if it’s addiction, abuse, or something else. To provide people with a way out of these crappy circumstances is to help them when they are down. However, our tribal society says if you can’t take care of yourself, you should be either dead or in jail.
So, I’m calling skinheads to not abandon their hatred but to point it in the right direction. And get rid of this whole system of values based on the very thing they are trying to fight. This is a self-perpetuating system that will always produce skinheads or other hate groups who are actually diverting the attention from real problems our society is facing. Objectively, we can measure the impact of immigrants on the economy. As you can probably guess, it’s positive. And also, we can measure the impact of skinheads on the economy and it is negative. Their basic premise will never be achieved, but they knew that already. So what’s left is basic tribal organization and characters in their nihilistic downward spiral.
I just had to rant a bit, because this is one of those movies that I saw in an awkward period of my life and it had a profound influence on me. I remember watching those party scenes and being all giddy about them. However, slowly and over time, I realized that I was wrong. Philosophy really helped me see that as I started questioning everything. It’s very simple, just start asking the question why and see where it leads you. Why do you feel that way? Why is this feeling good and so on and so on. You’ll soon stumble upon answers and learn more about yourself and the world.
Director: Geoffrey Wright
Writer: Geoffrey Wright
Cast: Russell Crowe, Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christopher McLean
Fun Facts: When smashing the display glass in the mall scene, the actor Daniel Pollock did actually cut himself.