“Live your life at the point of impact.”

“You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”

“Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.”

Those are the tag lines to what may be the most powerful, if not the best, movie of the year. And they sum up the movie quite nicely. This is a movie dependent on word of mouth. The only thing that I knew about it was that a friends’ parents saw it, they convinced him to see it, and he convinced me to see it. I knew of the director and co-writer, Paul Haggis (writer of Million Dollar Baby) and I simply love Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve), so I trusted in the pedigree of the movie.

“We miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just to feel something.”

This movie examines the taboo subject of race and race relations; how we see each other and how that impacts how we act, react, and live with one another. It opens with a car crash, a fender bender, that has a Hispanic woman trading insults based on racial stereotypes with an Asian woman over their driving habits. A Middle Eastern father and daughter are insulted as potential terrorists when they try to purchase a hand gun. Two young black males feel slighted at their service at a restaurant, evidence of racial discrimination, though at the hands of a black waitress. Because she, too, thought in stereotypes about young black males. A white couple are the victims of a carjacking. A black couple the victims of a particularly nasty DWB (driving while Black). A Hispanic man is shunned while doing his job because he looks like a criminal with his shaved head and tattoos.

As Anthony (Ludacris) proclaims, “This is America.”

Portraying lives connected by seeming coincidence, the movie feels like Magnolia or Short Cuts (though mercifully shorter), but shares its theme of interconnected relationships and stories. The movie points to two things: reality is relationships and we live lives of overlapping stories. If this movie is about anything, it is about how prejudice keeps us from seeing the people around us as they are, with characters speaking without the benefit of political correctness obscuring how they are feeling.

At some point, we, as a people, “lost our frame of reference.” We live in a multi-cultural world, whether we want to call it a melting pot, tossed salad, or whatever new paradigm we choose to live under. We don’t often get the humiliation of going through life always being treated as a suspect, guilty until proven innocent. We don’t often get the humiliation of casual victimization. We don’t often get how our reactions to those constant humiliations fuel our anger and further hatred. Where even what should have been a binding moment of shared commonality can instead have tragic consequences.

That our fallen-ness, our lost frame of reference, has led to broken relationships and a downward spiral of anger, fear, eventuating in death. Like Jean (Sandra Bullock) says “I wake up every morning like this. Angry all the time and I don’t know why.” And race only seems to be an excuse for that anger. So how do you fight an attitude, a thought, a prejudice? You certainly can’t pass laws against them, because these are crimes of the heart and mind. Do you expend the energy and emotion fighting every instance of prejudice or do you pick and choose your battles, sacrificing bits of your dignity along the way? Or do you get caught up in the downward spiral of destruction?

For the most part, they are good people (except, arguably the car-jackers). Angry, full of resentments, scared, trying to do the right thing or at least muddle through their series of moral compromises. I spoke to a cop about the problem of prejudice between cops and people of color. He told me that the only way to counter the under current of racism was for police officers to develop more relationships outside of their own race. The problem was that they saw the worst of people of all races, and like Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon), it changes them. It skews their perspective, because if that is their prevailing experience with that race, it bleeds into the fabric of their overall attitude. And they already have positive, balancing, relationships with members of their own race.

Who did this? We did. Graham’s drug addicted mother echoes the words of Christ when she says “I asked you to find your brother, but you were too busy.” We have to have some hard conversations and build what may be some uncomfortable bridges. Like the black tv director, we may have to tell our own kind when they shame the rest of us. Like the Persian store owner, we may find our angels in the strangest of places under the strangest of circumstances. Like Jean, we may find our best friends right under our noses. Like the rookie cop, we may learn things about ourselves and what we’re capable of, and that may frighten and scar us. Like Anthony, we may mature and progress. We all are victims of racism and guilty of racism, but we don’t have to be defined by it.

At once funny, moving, angry, and absorbing, this movie is something to be experienced, shared, and talked about. I hope that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Hotel Rwanda, a great movie that essentially falls between the cracks because people aren’t comfortable with the subject matter and the implicit call to action.