The film Antwone Fisher tells the story of one man’s struggle to identify with the influences of past events on his relationships and the healing process through which he seeks to resolve his past. The film uses flashbacks and dream sequences to illustrate the impact that past relationships and past interactions had on his social-psychological development. Produced by the talented up-and-coming screenwriter Antwone Fisher is an autobiographical tale by Denzel Washington in his directorial debut.
This movie tells the heart-wrenching and ultimately inspirational story of a young man’s power to rise above everything life has relentlessly thrown at him (Washington, 2002). At the end of the day, this is a film about how senseless acts of murder, abuse, and abandonment can colour a child’s existence. Based on the real-life experiences of the film’s screenwriter, Antwone Fisher, the movie explores those events and the conscious choices needed to make a defining change in life.
Social Concept of the Character. Adapted by the real Antwone Fisher from his autobiography, Killing Fish, the story focuses on the relationship that develops between Antwone and the shrink, who patiently finds a way into the source of the seaman’s pain and rage and gives him a prescription for happiness. Antwone’s anger and inability to have a natural relationship with a post-exchange worker are tied to his fears of rejection. His mother and others rejected him, and now, with the clock on the psychiatrist’s, Dr. Davenport’s (Denzel Washington) wall ticking down, is about to be “rejected” by his therapist/surrogate father. Davenport’s advice is advantageous to all young black men in trouble: “Channel the anger. You have to use that energy to better yourself” (Washington, 2002).
As Others See It. We are introduced to Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke) as a somewhat anti-social, temperamental young Navy seaman who has difficulty controlling his anger. Incapable of maintaining stable relationships, he gets into fights with fellow seamen and has trouble talking to the girl for which he has feelings (Markus et al., 1985). As a result of his brawls, he is sent to a Navy psychologist, Jerome Davenport, to receive anger management treatment. Their relationship catalyzes major change (Washington, 2002). Antwone, at first, is predictably unresponsive and resentful of therapy sessions, and the first few are spent in silence, with Jerome calmly filling the time with paperwork. Eventually, however, Antwone opens up to Jerome for the sake of boredom, if nothing else.
The bond that later develops between them results in Antwone reliving the painful, buried memories of his past that have festered in him over the years (Markus et al., 1985). The psychiatrist, Davenport, recognizes that Fisher’s relationships in childhood have coloured how he perceives himself and how he reacts to what he believes is the disrespect shown to him by others (Berk et al., 2000). Davenport relates that Fisher’s foster mother, who was also black, often called him a nigger out of her need to subjugate him, her need to challenge his central identity and keep him down because of her own survival instinct (Berk et al., 2000).
Social Interaction Patterns. Early in the film, Fisher is introduced as a man in the Navy who constantly demonstrates aggression towards others. His frequent battles with others get him into trouble and put him on a path to change his life. Davenport also becomes the route towards which Fisher realizes his own isolation from others and the impact on his social relationships (Berk et al., 2000). Fisher is a man tormented by the violent and degrading events of his past. In his childhood, he was deserted by his mother. His father was murdered before he was born, and he was abused, both sexually and verbally, by his foster mother (Internet, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2002).
His lack of maternal connection and his sense of abandonment by both mother and father are the foundations for his sense of disconnection from others (Berk et al., 2000). Theorists like Gabbard (1994) recognize that the kind of relationship that Fisher tries to define through his assessments of his interactions with Davenport represents his struggle for identification in his own relationships. This can be seen in his own interpersonal relationship with Cheryl (Joy Bryant). Fisher lacks the ability to trust either his girlfriend or his psychiatrist because of a lack of constancy in his relationships in the past (Berk et al., 2000).
Social Influence. As shown with a few flashbacks, using young Malcolm David Kelley to portray the seven-year-old Antwone and Cory Hodges in the same role seven years later, Fisher recalls that his father was murdered by a girlfriend two months before Antwone was born and that he had come into the world at the Ohio State Correctional Facility courtesy of his incarcerated mother, Eva (Viola Davis), who promptly gave him up to an orphanage (Washington, 2002). Raised with a couple of other children and an older foster sister by the abusive Mrs. Tate (Novella Nelson), Antwone nonetheless grew up to be a decent person. All this depicts the mindset of the makers and the fact that they have shown the influence of society on the character to bring him more close to real life.
Heart. Mentor. Hope. Fear. Truth. Life. Peace. These words are just a few that embody Antwone Fisher. Through struggle and determination, Antwone Fisher overcame his battles and eventually found peace within this soul. In addition, Antwone Fisher had a strong desire to overcome his fears of life. Antwone Fisher is definitely the story of a man who dug deep inside himself and therein laid a king (Internet, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2002).
- Berk, M.S., & Andersen, S.M. (2000). The Impact of Past Relationships on Interpersonal Behavior: Behavioral in the Social-Cognitive Process of Transference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(4), 546-562.
- Gabbard, G.O. (1994). Psychodynamic Psychiatry in Clinical Practice: The DSMIV Ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.
- Internet, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2002. www.foxsearchlight.com/antwonefisher. Accessed: July 25, 2005.
- Markus, H., Smith, J., & Moreland R.L. (1985). Role of the Self-Concept in the Perception of Others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(6), 1494-1512.
- Washington, D. (Director). (2002). Antwone Fisher. [DVD]. Toronto International Film Festival.