REVIEW: THE HOUSE I LIVE IN

Words: DANIEL OWEN
June 18, 2013

Beginning with the personal story of Nannie Jeter, the Jarecki family’s housekeeper and friend, The House I Live In explores the destructive nature of drugs on both an intimate and national level. It is a subject matter defined by its capability to ruin the lives of those who have been unfortunate enough to become embroiled […]


Beginning with the personal story of Nannie Jeter, the Jarecki family’s housekeeper and friend, The House I Live In explores the destructive nature of drugs on both an intimate and national level. It is a subject matter defined by its capability to ruin the lives of those who have been unfortunate enough to become embroiled in it. In this documentary, Jarecki gives voice to not only the academics that have spent their lives researching the war on drugs, but the judges, police officers, drug dealers and users that have been central to it. Early in the film the writer of The Wire, David Simon, pithily addresses Jarecki’s central message: ‘what drugs haven’t destroyed, the war on drugs has.’ It is this destruction that Jarecki seeks to attack, confronting the way in which the war on the drugs has failed all those involved in it. Initially, the oppressive rhetoric was deployed by Richard Nixon in 1971 with the intention of gaining votes for the upcoming election. Forty years later, Jarecki shows how the so-called war on drugs remains fundamentally rooted in gain, both political and monetary, but not in reducing the damaging effects of drugs. The result of this exploitation is what David Simon, who proves an eloquent and knowledgeable speaker, compellingly describes as ‘a holocaust in slow-motion’, were the victims are the lower classes that find themselves confined by the hermetic nature of America’s drug policy.

In an interview promoting the film in Los Angeles, Brad Pitt, who shares producer credits with Russell Simmons, John Legend and Danny Glover, described the war on drugs as ‘a charade.’ Looking at the overwhelming amount of money that has been spent, and more startlingly the lack of progress that has been achieved, it would be difficult to argue against him. In the forty years since Nixon waged an unrelenting attack on drugs, one that has cost one trillion dollars and has seen forty-five million arrests, nothing has changed. In reality, Jarecki suggests that “drugs are cheaper, purer, more available than ever before…and we have the largest prison population in the world.” The documentary begs the question then: who exactly does the war on drugs serve? It evidently isn’t drug users, who are treated and sentenced as severely as murderers for an offence which many speakers in the film suggest should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal one. Interviews with depleted police officers also reveal that the war isn’t serving their interests, with any faith in the strategy’s ability to take drugs off of the streets fading further the longer it goes on. The true benefactor, the documentary argues, is the capitalist system upon which America has laid its foundations. Since 1971, the number of offenders imprisoned for drug charges has increased twelvefold, yet illegal drug use continues to flourish. As a result, there is a wealth of potential prisoners waiting to serve their role in increasing the profits of the vast amount of corporations, ranging from private Taser gun manufacturers to phone companies, which have been built on the incredibly lucrative prison market.ilive

Ultimately, David Simon acknowledges, ‘capitalism is fairly colour-blind’. Towards the film’s conclusion, Jarecki reveals how increasing numbers of white Americans, largely due to the emergence of methamphetamine, are being exposed to the stern and rigid drug sentences that have crippled black communities for decades. The link between the two communities and their fall into drug use is explicitly exposed in the film as a shared feeling of dejection. With no prospects, no future, and no income, drug dealing and drug use offers escape to lower class Americans that are struggling to find any existential meaning in their lives. By weaving in Nannie’s personal story of loss and frustration amidst the powerful polemic against the war on drugs, Jarecki delivers a thesis regarding the ineptitude of America’s drug policy that is certain to provoke thought. This is undoubtedly what the filmmaker has set out to do: expose the injustices of a futile system that has been operating for so long, and with such damaging effects, under the pretence of ridding America of a drug problem that has done nothing but grow.  

 


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