Director: Andrew Davis
Diana Takata

The Tweens are coming and they care more about human problems than most adults. That's the underlying message of Holes, a cross between Cool Hand Luke and The Hardy Boys, an ostensible family film that pricks at about as many American social taboos as any mainstream movie of recent memory.

It's still hard to find a Black man kissing a White woman on screen these days, and yet Holes dives right in and makes the sexual attraction between Black man and White woman the crux of what turns Kissin' Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette), our historical protagonist, to a life of crime in the Old West. And the fact that when the story moves to the present, and all these uptight modern White Rednecks who run a Boy's Detention camp (ironically named "Camp Green Lake" as it is a desert wasteland) built right where Kate supposedly buried her loot -- the fact that most of the detainees are ethnic turns us down some very knotty terrain and a fairly interesting plot. When the boys are used by the camp officials (played by Sigourney Weaver and John Voigt) to try to dig up Kate's treasure, well what we really find buried beneath American soil is racial tension and injustice.

The message of the film, based on the Newberry award-winning book of the same name by Louis Sachar (who also wrote the screenplay), is pretty plain: race matters, class matters, and prison labor is exploited for a system that does not necessarily treat each member of society fairly or consistently. How people are defined, as stressed by the casting and visual style of the film (Holes is directed by Andrew Davis of Fugitive fame), is largely along lines of race, ethnicity and power.

The themes of Holes percolate up like the water on top of that mountain where the young protagonist Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) finally finds the hidden treasure and gives us adults a stark slap in the face: the tweens who are flocking to Holes can handle more weighty material than we can, we adults who for some reason eschew such issues and sweep them under the carpet under the gloss of a media egalitarianism that more often that not ignores hard issues in favor of a kind of polite la la land of denial. In fact, to tackle issues of substance, real substance, is for most filmmakers a taboo, so much so that entire world constructs are created and mythos built in order to distract us away from anything resembling an informed awareness of the world around us. Even so-called "important artistic films" are more and more becoming no more typical Hollywood escapist trite -- and that's the good stuff. What used to be the subject matter of serious filmmakers aiming at adult audiences twenty or thirty years ago is now relegated tweens in a film like Holes.

Yes, Holes, which puts issues of race, class and wealth right in your teenage face, albeit sometimes indirectly and often sans overt language, because obviously you must be naive and stupid and a pre-teen to ever want to watch such silly stuff, and not yet be numbed by network news and Reality TV (as are teenagers and adults) -- in short, you must be about 12 if you still give a damn.

-- Diana Takata

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Copyright Web del Sol, 2003

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