2001 “Save the Last Dance” – a gem of a movie – have you seen it? The characters are complex, vivid, and display problems and potential that many of us have experienced, either directly or indirectly. The stories are familiar – race, sex, hopes realized and hopes dashed, the decision either to bow to social inertia and ignorance, or to seek a future possible only through honesty within one’s heart and soul and facing the fear and sadness that can and will touch almost every life at some point. Throughout the story are presented subplots that illustrate obvious and subtle stories of racial culture and societal beliefs, and the complexity of accepting and fighting the environment surrounding young people trying to make their way to adulthood. There are fathers both black and white who are fortunate enough to have a second chance to love their children, and some who are not. There are different mothers, black and white, who work very hard or not at all to raise their children – including one who works too hard without using wisdom, leading to a tragic end. These quietly presented parental themes urge us to hope for the opportunities for mistakes to sometimes be redeemed, and second chances sought – all with the very real awareness that this is not always so, even with the best of intentions. There are youths who are willing to be unique within their environment, despite the derision heaped upon them by their associates. There is a youth who rages and fights to maintain the status quo of ignorance, blaming his personal pain on everyone around him, and denying his feelings of helplessness, ultimately harming himself and others. There is a young lady who staunchly hides within her own anger and pain, and then, with help from an unexpected source, finds the strength to face her feelings of guilt and sadness – strength that is tested, spikes, and ebbs, and ultimately is rewarded with triumph, most importantly triumph shared. The help sought and offered is entirely unplanned by both the source and the recipient, but is part of a love story whose very gentleness is a vivid contrast to the environment surrounding it. The story truthfully presents powerful feelings related to race and parenthood, hope and loss, love and hate, and successfully maintains our awareness of the raw realities without unnecessarily distracting us with over aggrandizement or spectacularization of the sexual and violent physical elements.
There is a related element that I wish I could explore – what do the actors feel about the roles they play and the ideas they are illustrating? I am especially curious about how the two central black men in the film feel about the “good” and “bad” aspects of the choices and behaviors of the characters they play. They both give us very powerful, very successful performances. I wonder how they feel about both the subtlety and the starkness of the ideals and themes they are representing and sharing with us. I sincerely hope they feel pleased and positive about their accomplishment.
One last thing – the editing in this movie is extraordinary, most especially in the dance sequences. Every time I watch this movie, I eagerly await the final audition dances, in particular the very last one. The music and dance throughout the movie is very enjoyable, and my favorite is that amazing last dance. Kudos to the actors wherever they could make actual dance contributions, and many thanks to all of the amazing expertise provided by the many professionals needed to produce the beauty that is our privilege to experience.