Friday, April 20, 2007

The Prestige (2006)

Virtue to Extremes is Vice

Christopher Priest - Author
Jonathan Nolan - Screenwriter
Christopher Nolan - Screenwriter
Christopher Nolan - Director

Hugh Jackman - Rupert Angier
Christian Bale - Alfred Borden
David Bowie - Nikola Tesla
Michael Caine - John Cutter
Rebecca Hall - Sarah Borden
Scarlett Johansson - Olivia Wenscombe
Samantha Mahurin - Jess Borden


(I am gong to try to write less by assuming that you, dear reader, have seen the movie and understand it's physical premises.)

The Prestige offers an excellent opportunity to examine how virtues such a passion for excellence and self-sacrifice can become horrific Faustian examples of destructive obsession.

Self-sacrifice is often considered a virtue when that sacrifice is for another's good.
But self-sacrifice is also what obsessive people do for something that they selfishly want but don't need.

Here are some examples of he sacrifice that they risk and experience for the sake of their art.

Angier and Borden are assistants (plants) for another magician for which Cutter is the engineer. They go to a Chinaman's magic performance to discover the fishbowl trick. They see the man acting crippled afterwards getting into a carriage. They surmise that he's totally devoted to his craft.
BORDEN: This is a performance. This is why no one can detect his methods…total devotion to his art. A lot of self sacrifice…the only way to escape all this (reality).
The concept of sacrifice is evident in the very next scene when Borden assists for The Great Virgil. In the small audience is a lady (Sarah) and a little boy (her nephew). When Virgil smashes the birdcage hidden under a cloth, the little boy cries: "He killed it!" speaking of the bird. Of course, Virgil reproduces the bird. When Borden approaches the boy, and shows him the live bird, the little boy asks, "But where's his brother?" Borden considers the boy for a moment and says "He's a sharp lad." … and later it is Borden that must discard the very smashed and dead bird hidden in the table's false top.

This dramatically foreshadows the sacrifices that both Borden and Angier will make in their attempts to rise to fame.

In showing a coin trick to the lad later, Borden advises never to show how the trick works because as soon as he does he'll be "nothing to them. Nothing." Notice here that PRIDE is the motivation. Borden says, "The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything."

In the next flashback scene Borden recalls how he used the trick to sneak into Sarah's apartment. But, telling her how he did it would not have impressed her. Being there, nonetheless, does.

Fallon (Borden's twin in disguise) is leaving Borden as Sarah comes in.
Borden tells his expecting-with-child and very worried girlfriend how he does the bullet catch.

There is a key exchange in this scene at 29:44:

BORDEN: Don't worry. Don't worry. Because, I not going to let anything happen. Every thing is going to be all right, because I love you very much.
SARAH: Say it again.
BORDEN: I love you.
SARAH: Not today.
BORDEN: What?
SARAH: Well, some days it's not true. And today you don't mean it. Maybe today, you're more in love with magic than me. And I, being able to tell the difference makes the days it is true mean something.
Indeed we begin to see that the love for magic and craft create a dysfunction in Borden's life.

Next we find Angier, in disguise, aiming a loaded gun at Borden and asking, "Which know did you tie?" Borden catches the live bullet, taking off two of his fingers.

Days later, when dressing the wound, Sarah can't believe the wound is still bleeding just as it first did. Of course, this is the other twin, who with the help of his brother, has chiseled off the same two fingers. Self-sacrifice for the trick. Passion for excellence or obsession?

Cutter returns to Angier to keep working. They both know that Borden's mistake and arrogance killed Julia. Angier changes his name to The Great Danton. As they prepare the climax bird trick this exchange (35:34):
ANGIER: Cutter the bird cage can't be our climax, everybody knows it.
CUTTER: Not like this, they don't.

ANGIER: I don't want to kill doves.
CUTTER: Then stay off the stage. You're a magician, not a wizard. You've got to get your hands dirty if you're going to achieve the impossible.
(and the dove nods its head)
Hinting at the Faustian pledge that Angier will eventually kill far more than just a dove, getting his hands dirty with more that dirt and the blood of a bird.

The bird trick goes wrong when Borden shows up to "fowl" it. This is payback for his fingers and the loaded gun. Although Angier wants revenge now.

Angier gets an audience with Tesla. Tesla shows him the effects of alternating current. Angier wants Tesla to make a "real" machine for him, not a trick.

Angier's Moment of Grace - Part 1 (51:27)

Tesla warns Angier to drop his obsession because of the cost (51:27). "No good will come of it." Angier thinks Tesla is talking about money, but Tesla isn't. Tesla admits that good came from his obsessions at first, but he has followed his obsessions too long, and now he is their slave…and one day "they will choose to destroy me."

Angier's Moment of Grace - Part 2 (52:35)

Olivia tries to get Angier to drop the obsession of revenge by suggesting that they are now even. He explodes:
ANGIER: Even? My wife for a couple of his fingers? He has a family now, and he's performing again. Borden is out there living his life, as he always intended, as if nothing has happened. And look at me. I'm alone, and no theater will touch me.
OLIVIA: Us. You're going to need a better disguise.
In both of these Moments of Grace scenes, our tragic protagonist rejects the grace he is offered by first the scientist and then his lover. He is given an out, a way to live in peace. But he rejects it and embraces the obsession of his craft and the obsession of his revenge.

Olivia's line "you're going to need a better disguise" foreshadows the disguise he has to come up with, not just to sneak into Borden's show, but to come up with a "better trick," and how he disguises his "double." Angier will need a better solution than just a twin. "Better trick" is in quotes because in terms of a true moral premise "better" in this case is "worse" and "trick" is not a trick but a "real" Faustian event.

As the story continues, Angier's revenge gets out of control—a counter point to Cutter's remark that Angier rejects: "We don't do tricks we can't control."

Indeed, Angier soon makes it clear to Olivia that he doesn't care about his wife's death, but getting his hands on Borden's secret.

Tesla "perfects" his cloning device, but warns Angier that the box will only bring him misery. Tesla's advice is to drop it in the deepest ocean. The box, of course, the physical object of Angier's pursuit, is a metaphor for Angier's psychological obsession with revenge, which should be dropped into the deepest ocean, as well.

But Borden is as much involved in the obsession, at least for his craft. Sarah pleads with Borden, who is probably the evil twin:
SARAH: I want you to be honest with me. No tricks, lies and secrets. Do you love me.
BORDEN: Not today, Love.
Distraught at their dysfunctional relationship, Sarah goes to Alfred's workshop, looks at the birds that are mostly destined to death, and then hangs herself. She's a bird, who is willingly sacrificed (by the Borden's) for the sake of the ultimate trick (which she does not understand). Her hanging sounds like the fatal snap of the birdcage.

In the end, after Borden is scheduled to die by hanging, his little girl, Jess is brought by Lord Cordlow to visit before he dies. Borden looks at Lord Cordlow, it's his nemesis, Angier, as it has always been. Borden tries to tell the guards that he's been tricked and that the man that just walked off with his daughter is the man he's accused of killing. But no one believes him.

Cutter delivers Angier's devices to Lord Cordlow and is shocked to see Angier.

Borden says goodbye to Fallon, who will live on for both of them. Borden says he's sorry for a lot of things. He wishes he had left Angier to his trick.

As Borden mounts the gallows, above the trap door that will kill him, just as the trap doors killed Angier's clones, Cutter and Lord Cordlow push the Tesla's box to end of a dilapidated theater warehouse. Cutter explains that his earlier description to Angier about the sailor who almost drowned who said drowning was like he was going home, was a lie. Cutter says to Angier that the sailor said, "It was agony." Angier dreadfully looks in the tanks holding his dead clones...100 of them. He reminds himself: "No one cares about the man in the box."

He hears a noise. Is it Cutter? No, it's Fallon, who throws the rubber ball at him -- the rubber ball that symbolizes the transportation of a man from one place to another. Angier, distracted, picks up the ball, and Fallon shoots him, just as Borden says "Abracadabra!" and is hung.

Then Fallon/Borden explains the trick, to the dying Angier.
BORDEN: Sacrifice, Rupert, that's the price of a good trick. But you wouldn't know anything about that would you?
Angier: It took courage not knowing if I'd be the man in the box or the Prestige. You never understood why we did this. The audience knows the truth. Their world is miserable, solid, all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second…then you cold make them wonder….it was the look on their faces.
Pride. Lord Cordlow dies, next to 100 of his clones that he has killed.

In retrospect we might figure out that Angier sets up his death during the 100th performance, by luring Borden back stage, and then Cutter, not knowing the trick, and Angier not appearing that night as The Prestige, is able to pin his own murder on Borden to get revenge.

The Moral Premise

In consideration of the moral premise we typically have a vice that leads to some physical detriment; and a virtue that leads to some greater good.

But in a tragedy, such as The Prestige, you have the two prongs of the moral premise that both descend. That is, a vice that leads to some physical detriment; and the vice's extreme that leads to some greater detriment.

Thus, our tragic moral premise can be stated this way:
Obsessive Pride leads to dysfunction; but
Obsessive Revenge leads to destruction…100 times over.
If you have additional insights or a contrary opinion, let me know. Add a comment.

Monday, April 9, 2007

FINDING FORRESTER (2000)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Mike Rich - Written by
Sean Connery - William Forrester
Rob Brown - Jamal Wallace
F. Murray Abraham - Robert Crawford
Anna Paquin - Claire Spence
Busta Rhymes - Terrell Wallace


STUDENTS: If you're a student would you please post a comment and tell me where you're from and what class you're writing for? And, if you can I'd love to see what you're writing for those English and Story classes, or what kind of form you had to fill out for the assignment that sent you here. I'm collecting these. Send them to stan@moralpremise.com   Thanks.  If you'd like a FREE BOOKMARK with writer's helps printed on both sides, send a SASE to "The Moral Premise, PO Box 29, Novi, MI  48376." Here a link to more information. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page linked to see the bookmark.)

Finding Forrester takes place in the Bronx where William Forrester, a white, recluse novelist, makes an unlikely friendship with, and mentors, a black 16-year old boy who is gifted at both basketball, literature, and writing, Jamal Wallace.

Finding Forrester (FF), however, is really about finding hope by venturing into the unknown. We make assumptions about the unknown that become legendary prejudices, urban myths, which in turn reinforce our unfounded fears. When chance, fate, or Providence breaks down the barriers, and if we open our heart, we are given new life, and can face the ultimate unknown, death, with peace.

Physical Goals: Jamal Wallace wants to be accepted by his urban peers and so excels at street basketball, purposely hiding his intelligence behind a C average. He secretly writes in notebooks, something he's done since his father left home. His standardized test scores, however, indicate a brilliant mind. He's recruited by Mailor, a private and somewhat exclusive Manhattan school that needs help on its basketball team. Jamal's physical goal is to be accepted by those around him for what he's capable of doing. But he's held back by his own prejudice toward his peers and the prejudice of others that a black kid from the Bronx can play basketball but nothing more.

William Forrester, also a kid from the Bronx, however, wrote a famous novel 50 years earlier that is still creating a wait list at the New York Public Library. He only wrote the one novel, however because he was offended at the crack reviews, and because the deaths of his brothers and parents sent him into a long depression. Forrester, says screenwriter Mike Rich, like many other famous novelists, wrote for themselves, and not the public. Forrester wants to "get out" but he's afraid of what the public and the world outside have in store for him.

In FF, Jamal has to fight his way into Forrester's life, onto the Mailor basketball team, into the acceptance of his literature professor, Robert Crawford, and into the broader culture of Manhattan.

Forrester has to fight his way out of his top floor Bronx flat where he's quadruple locked himself in -- at the door -- but leaves his window, accessible by the fire escape, unlocked . Although his former life involved mountain treks in search of rare birds, now his outside adventures are limited to sticking the top half of his body out the window and sitting on the still to clean the pane's exterior. The clean window allows him to watch Jamal and friends play basketball, and occasional videotape the stray bird from the park.

The Moral Premise. FF can be summarized in this moral premise statement:

Ignorance and avoidance of the unknown
leads to fear, isolation, and despair;
but Knowledge and embrace of the unknown
leads to faith, friendship, and hope.
Expanding on this premise, FF is about how to achieve our dreams that are out of our present reach. The movie suggests that to extend our reach we have to enter territory that often appears dangerous.

This moral premise is ubiquitous in many metaphoric and didactic ways.

A. Fear of the Unknown. The opening rap is about how the force of will allows us to make decisions which allow us to achieve our dreams, even in the face of an establishment that wants to hold us back. In this case the reference is the "white" establishment holding back "blacks". The story, however, isn't as much about racial prejudice, as it is the greater prejudice toward people that are unlike us in a multitude of other ways, white or black. This affinity of keeping to our own kind is one of those mental roadblocks that takes on, unnecessarily, racial identity. FF does a good job of revealing that such prejudice is much deeper than race, and that race becomes the scapegoat. One of the reasons racial prejudice will never go away is because there is a deeper and broader distrust of anyone that is not exactly like us in a hundred other ways — race, yes, but also culture, class, language, height, weight, fashion, intelligence, language, business affiliation, school affiliation, and social standing. It is the fear generated by ignorance of these different categories that leads to false assumptions, which in turn breeds fear.

B. The Raven. Ironically, Jamal's public high school literature teacher asks the students if they are familiar with Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. A cursory examination of The Raven suggests that Poe's poem was Mike Rich's inspiration for FF. In the poem, Poe is distracted from his depression and grief over the death of "the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore." In the poem, an ebony raven comes rapping at Poe's window. In the movie it's Jamal who enters Forrester's window (first) and door (second). When Poe, the recluse writer, lets in the insistent Raven, it perches upon a bust of Pallas, the Greek God of wisdom. Similarly Jamal comes into Forrester's recluse life in search of wisdom. This reference is doubled in the movie when Forrester, a bird watcher, videotapes a bird outside his window that has "strayed from the park" as Jamal has strayed from his urban culture into Forrester's. Poe's raven is a symbol of sadness and depression that will not go away, because the hope that love has offered has gone away. Rich's screenplay explores what would happen if the raven, which enters the sad writer's life, were to renew hope, rather than reinforce sadness. The connection to the moral premise, here, is Poe's (and Forrester's) reluctance to mount the courage to leave the land of destitution and enter the land of hope.

C. Entering the Lion's Den. On a simple dare, late at night, Jamal enters Forrester's flat via the fire escape and unlocked window. It's a "rickety" entrance that reveals Jamal's willingness to explore uncharted territory. The first thing Jamal does in the flat is unbolt and open the entrance door. It is a practical move that allows him to quickly escape if found-out (which is he), but it also foreshadows his goal for Forrester, and where the story is leading. Jamal is spooked by Forrester and runs out of the flat, leaving his pack behind. Forrester finds it, reads his "notebooks" and marks up his writing with red highlighter, asking at the end of one of the notebooks, "Where are you leading me?" It's a writing instructor's rhetorical question that also moves the story forward. Indeed Jamal is leading Forrester out the front door, now, figuratively unlocked.

D. Questions Point to Unknown Fear. In an early discussion between them, Forrester says to Jamal:
There's a question in your writing about what you want to do with your life. That's a question your present school cannot answer for you.
This comment suggests that Jamal needs to brave the unknown in order to find a way out of the urban parking lot metaphor that his brother, the parking lot supervisor, as succumbed to.

E. Forrester Fears Discovery. After Jamal discovers who Forrester is, he confronts him and wants to tell Forrester what he thought of his novel, Avalon Landing. Forrester wants nothing to do with Jamal's opinion, and is sacred that Jamal will reveal Forrester's whereabouts. Forrester has been invaded and he's scared. He's been found out. His life is no longer private, and he gets Jamal to promise to keep the secret from others. Jamal promises this if Forrester helps him be a better writer. Here we see Jamal forcing Forrester into a constructive confrontation with the outside world, in exchange for gaining wisdom about his inside world. (43 min)

F. Playing by the Rules. Shortly after Jamal starts at Mailor, he has trouble opening his locker. Along comes the chairman's daughter, Clair Spence, who bangs on the locker to make it spring open. "At least they look good," she offers. It's small, but it's a metaphor for the moral premise, nonetheless. The locker door presents a barrier to the unknown. How to cross its threshold requires unconventional methods, and even a little confrontation. We're afraid sometimes to go places when the methods are not our style. So Jamal tells Forrester while watching Jeopardy,
If you're going to play the game, then you need to know the rules.
You don't enter the new world using techniques from the old world. On the otherhand, Jamal's courage is the opposite of conformity. He refuses to run from things that others would fear.

Following the rules, in an unknown world" is also metaphored to us during Jamal's early visit to Forrester's flat. This is a literary lion's den, as the DVD chapter title suggests. It is not a basketball court. Jamal, a basketball always at the ready, absently mindedly starts to dribble the ball in Forrester's flat. Forrester stops correcting Jamal's essay and looks uneasy at him. Jamal stops dribbling. The rules for playing the literary game are not the same as playing basketball. Jamal puts the ball aside.

Again, we see this play out in two scenes were Jamal first avoids a confrontation with Professor Crawford and later when he confronts Crawford and beats the old man at his game of pity quotations. In the first instance, Jamal avoids Crawford's wrath because he played by the game rules of the new environment. But later he incurs Crawford's wrath when he plays by rules not suited for Crawford's lion's den. The lion threatens to eat Jamal. In all these instances of playing or not playing by the rules, Jamal demonstrates his resolve of not being restrained from his dream. He shows us that bravery is necessary for claiming the hope that we all desire.

G. Avalon Landing. Forrester's (one) wunderbook, Avalon Landing, is referenced by Crawford as the great 20th century novel, which suggests how life never ever works out. It describes Forrester's lament and fear of breaking out of the despair that surrounded him after the war and the deaths of his brother, mother and father. Rather than bravely entering the new world offered to him, Forrester retreats from the unknown and lives a life of isolation and fear.

H. "The Season of Faith's Perfection" is a New Yorker article that Forrester wrote about the Yankee's World Series pennant race in 1960. Forrester's family rarely missed a Yankee's home game played in the Bronx at the stadium Babe Ruth built. But in 1960 the Yankee's lost the championship to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the last half of the ninth inning of the seventh game. The article's title is a metaphor of how there is a season where faith can take hold and produce hope, even in the midst of grave disappointment.

I. The Unknown of the Blank Page. About half way through the movie (at about 53 minutes) Jamal faces the unknown...a blank page stuck in a typewriter. Even though Forrester demonstrates how to cross the barrier into the unknown, Jamal is not sure how to pursue his dream. Forrester tells him to write from his heart, and use his mind later. But Jamal is still stuck. Finally Forrester retrieves his 1960 New Yorker article (above) and tells Jamal to re-type his words until he finds his own. Jamal musters the courage and starts in -- tentatively. Forrester yells at him to "PUNCH THE KEYS". Shortly, Jamal does, and in so doing embraces the moment of grace to write from his heart — the strong sounds of the punched keys resonate throughout the flat. At that, Forrester yells in Jamal's street vernacular, "Yes! Yes! You're the man now, dog."

J. What is the Scarlott Tanager? Jamal and Forrester are watching Jeopardy on TV and the question for the answer is: "What is a scarlet tanager?" Forrester quotes a James Lowell poem about a scarlet tanager "Thy duty, winged flame of sprig, is but to love and fly and sing," and explains to Jamal how the poem is about "the song of the tanager, a song of new seasons, new life." Indeed, the moral premise even on Jeopardy.

K. Street Courage. Later, as Jamal walks home, he demonstrates his comfort, if not courage, in an environment that others would run from. He shuns what would seem like the safer sidewalk and walks down the dark street's center, even as: a police cruiser (lights flashing) passes him closely checking him out, a car burns on the other side, and then it downpours. Jamal is aware of all this, but walks steadily on, offering no defense, or courtesy to any of the elements. This shot could be interpreted as Jamal's comfort in the Bronx neighborhood, but it also underscores his embrace of the moral premise by summing-up the bravery to confront unflinchingly that territory that robs mankind of hope.

L. Under the Outer Worlds. When Jamal and Claire spend an afternoon together at a museum, they have the courage to discuss the budding romance between them and the difficulties implied by their different backgrounds of class, culture and race. He also asks her about how she happened to go to Mailor, which only a few years ago was an all boys school. The conversation occurs under oversized models of the outer planets of the Solar System that hang from the glass ceiling. The scene again reinforces the dream of mankind to venture into the unknown in order to uncover our hope for the future.

M. Getting Out. On Forrester's birthday, Jamal persuades him to get out and go to a baseball game. But Forrester gets lost in the crowds and cowards in a corner of the stadium's belly. They leave, and Jamal, with the pull of his brother, takes Forrester to the pitcher's mound of old Yankee stadium in the Bronx. The evening is the beginning of Forrester's finding himself and leaving the confines of his self-imposed prison. He finally shares with Jamal the ghosts that have kept him holed up during the past years, and in so doing finds hope for the future. Jamal quotes him his own words,
The rest of those who have gone before us, cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.
In other words, to find peace, to find ourselves, we must each summon our own courage to enter the unknown future.

N. The Challenge of Integrity. Jamal is accused of plagiarism on an essay entered in the school's writing contest' he has quoted Forrester but doesn't cite him. It is the essay that begins with Forrester's title and first paragraph of "A Season of Faith's Perfection." Not knowing that the article was previously published, Jamal doesn't know he could cite the article from the public record, but rather fears that to reveal his source would force him to break his promise to Forrester. When Jamal confronts Forrester about the problem of possibly being kicked out of school and they discuss the bitter prejudice that Crawford exhibits toward Jamal, Forrester offers an explanation:
FORRESTER: Do you know what people are most afraid of?

JAMAL: What?

FORRESTER: What they don't understand. And when we don't understand we turn to our assumptions.
In other words, our fear comes from ignorance of the unknown, and our inability to enter the unknown with courage.

O. Writing From Your Heart. Another important scene that reinforces the moral premise is the city championship basketball championship at Madison Square Garden. The game comes down to two foul shots that Jamal is given to shoot, with time already run out. If he makes them both, they win. But Jamal has just been offered an illicit settlement in the supposed plagiarism scandal. As he stands at the free-throw line, he realizes that he will be defined by what happens here, not only to the school and Crawford who looks on, but by himself. He doesn't want to graduate from Crawford and be pushed through the academic system simply because he's a jock. He wants to be acknowledged for all that he is. He faces a dilemma but makes the decision that requires the most courage of his young life. It's been clearly shown that Jamal never misses a free throw, and under pressure can shoot 50 consecutive. But on this night, he will define his life for the future. He misses both shots.

This is a huge barrier that takes an immense amount of courage. He is entering unknown territory, but he is determined not to be restrained from his dream as the opening rap foreshadows like a Greek chorus. He will claim his dream to be a writer, and a man of integrity. Making those two shots, would define him as a jock from the Bronx who cheated his way through school and probably cheated on his essay. Jamal faces Forrester's earlier challenge of "writing for himself" and not to write for others. Forrester's exile was in part because he let the opinion of others define him. Jamal was going to be the defining process, not the crooked board of directors who just wanted the school to win basketball games.

That night, after the game, he writes Forrester a letter at the New York public library. Forrester cleans his windows — it's time to see more clearly, even at night. Forrester seemingly knows that Jamal has chosen to define his life for himself and not for others. Finishing the windows, Forrester pumps up the flat tire on his bicycle and rides freely, happily, and without fear through the Bronx streets.

Jamal's ultimate act of self-honesty and integrity, free both him to define what others will say about him, even as it frees Forrester.

P. Forrester's Return. With his new freedom from fear, Forrester has the courage to go to Mailor and defend Jamal during the writing contest. With a surprise visit that is honored by Crawford, Forrester reads a paper that Jamal has written, although Crawford doesn't know it at the time and praises Forrester for what he assumes are the old writer's words. The essay is about both Forrester and Jamal and their fears. What we hear of it is this:
"Losing family obligates us to find our family. Not always the family that is our blood, but the family that can become our blood. And should we have the wisdom that would open our door to this new family, we will find that the wishes we once had for the father, who once guided us..."

The only thing left to say will be 'I wish I had seen this, or I wish I had done that or I wish...

Q. A Peaceful End. At the end of the movie, Jamal, three years later, learns that Forrester has died of cancer in Scotland. In a letter to Jamal, Forrester makes it clear that had it not been for their friendship, Forrester's dreams of returning to Scotland would not have been fulfilled. Jamal gave Forrester the courage to make the decision to end his exile from society and go home before it was too late.

There are other elements in the movie that reinforce the moral premise for each of the main characters, including Professor's Crawford's embrace of the vice side of the moral premise. But, we'll save that for another time, or your own essay. Or, perhaps, someone else would like to write that for posting here. Anyone?

UPDATE 4.25.2015 - MORE ON THE OPENING RAP

Jimmy Bobbitt
Here is a link to the opening rap lyrics and a collection of very good discussion questions.
OPENING RAP LYRICS AND DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
My thanks to the Highline Schools literature teacher for compiling this PDF. It's very useful. (Who are you?)

A reader asked for an interpretation of the rap. I hint at it earlier when I write:
The opening rap is about how the force of will allows us to make decisions which allow us to achieve our dreams, even in the face of an establishment that wants to hold us back. (section A)
That is true of both Jamal and Forrester. And,...
Jamal AND Forrester are entering unknown territory. Jamal, particularly, is determined not to be restrained from his dream as the opening rap foreshadows like a Greek chorus. (section O second paragraph)
To see the "clarity" of the rap, which is ladened with poetic slang and metaphors, read it over, a-loud several times....slowly. As you do, look for clauses and juxtapositions that:

A. Pertain to Jamal's dream of breaking out of the destructive prejudices he's grown up with against education as if it was only a white man's sport. The very first line tells you this: "Yo, nothin' can keep me detained."  Also: "feast when I release the beast within," and "the reapers twin."

B. Remind one of the end they will received if they persistent in this prejudice against education and mentors (of any race or class) that can help us fully actualize our calling. The last line of the first stanza depicts that: "you should bear witness to the end of your existence." There are a number of metaphors that point to a tragic end to those that persist against an education than can elevate: e.g. "body outliner," "red juice," and "up the block."

The style of the rap does seem to waft between the two voices that battle within Jamal (and Forrester), one that tells them to escape the hopelessness of their situation, and the other voice that tells them they can't escape... that defeat is inevitable. A better understanding of the slang, which I don't have, would explain this. Ultimately, however, poetry purpose is to give pause to reflection, not explain things to perfection.

DVD
VOD