Imperial Dreams Movie Review
As a big fan of criminal justice films and television shows, it was difficult to pick just one to write about for this assignment. I wanted to pick a film that I had not seen which led me to the discovery of a film called Imperial Dreams. Based on a true story, the movie stars John Boyega as the main character Bambi, a former gangster turned aspiring writer. The film was very powerful in displaying the difficulties of re-entering life outside of prison and the environment that gets you there in the first place.
The movie begins on a sunny Los Angeles day with a young african american father named Bambi released from prison and heading home to his son Day. Day has been staying at Uncle Shrimp’s house as his mother is also currently imprisoned. Bambi is surrounded by crime the moment he returns as his uncle is dealing drugs, his mother is a crack addict, and his cousin is hiding from police and gang members after a shootout. Through it all Bambi is trying to avoid falling back into that lifestyle but his Uncle Shrimp essentially tells him that if he and Day want to stay in his house then he has to help him move drugs. Bambi refuses and his Uncle angrily kicks them out. Bambi’s difficulty with dissociation or removing himself from the criminal world is largely due to differential association theory. Differential association theory is a sociological theory that explains crime as “a consequence of the interaction with criminal lifestyles.” This basically suggests that crime is learned or imitated by an individual’s environment and the culture they grow up witnessing. This was a recurring theme throughout the film as Bambi struggled to stay out of prison but his environment made it so tempting and easy to fall back into a life of crime and is largely the reason he ended up in prison in the first place.
Bambi, who dreams of becoming a writer, reads his work to his son every night. One night, Bambi said something that really stuck out to me, “When you are born in prison, you don’t know what to do with your freedom.” Often you see people that have been imprisoned at a young age or have been in the system for so long, that when they are finally granted their freedom, they don’t know how to use it effectively. The reentry process for former convicts in the US is hardly that, as the system operates in a way that makes it nearly impossible to live a successful life or become a different person once you have been labeled as a criminal. At one point in the film, Bambi meets with his parole officer who says he has to get a paying job. Bambi has no form of identification for job applications so he goes to the DMV to get his license back. At the DMV Bambi is told that he has outstanding child support payments that the government filed for his baby mama even though he was in jail and unable to make money. Basically we see Bambi get stuck in this impossible cycle where he can't get a job without a driver's license but he can't get a driver’s license because he owes 15k in child support, but he can't pay that because he has been in prison and has no money. While explaining the situation to his cousin, a frustrated Bambi reflects on the difficulties he is facing, saying “How do they expect me to get rehabilitated when they won't rehabilitate me in the first place.” A study from 2017 showed that in America more than 75% of prisoners return to the prison system within five years of release. This is due to the lack of resources and services for former convicts seeking to reenter the world. With a strong lack of opportunity, former convicts often end up right back where they started as they have nothing else to turn to and essentially zero resources to create a better life for themselves. A report from 2005 created by the Re-entry Policy Council showed that “virtually every person incarcerated in a jail as well as 97% of those incarcerated in prisons will eventually be released back into society.” Given that large percentage you would think that we would have a more productive re-entry system to ensure that these individuals can come out of prison and contribute to benefitting society. The report also showed that the number of people reentering society has increased fourfold in the past 20 years, & spending on corrections has increased nearly sevenfold during that time. However, the likelihood of a former prisoner succeeding in the community upon release has not improved. This film really helped me see the difficulties that ex-convicts face when trying to create a life after prison. It showed how flawed the system is and how much change is needed. I believe we need to evaluate where the money goes in the prison system and allocate the funding towards rehabilitation and re-entry programs rather than the jails and prisons themselves. The most important part and ultimately the goal of prison is to in a sense “reform” the person so that they can learn from their mistakes and come back to society ready to contribute but the system makes it so much harder than it needs to be.
Throughout the film Bambi and his son are seen living out of his broken car with barely enough money for meals. Bambi’s brother is trying to save up enough money to go to college and since few places are hiring and he is running out of time he begins to consider the Uncle’s offer to move drugs for him in exchange for cash. Bambi strongly urges against this and it creates a dispute between the two. Bambi sees the potential and drive in his brother that I think he also sees in himself and knows that if he does this job he could lose it all. For Bambi and his family, crime is easy and often the only choice as they are surrounded by it and have been their whole lives. This is another example of how sociological theories apply to this film because it involves the interaction between individuals and groups and shows how their social environment is a huge factor leading to crime. DONE?
Ultimately Bambi wants to create a better life for his son and the way he is doing that is by stopping the cycle. Bambi wants to stay out of jail, get a job, and separate from the subculture of violence and gang mentality that he has grown up around but he truly has to do it all on his own through determination and will. At the end of the movie we see that Bambi’s brother is heading to college and Bambi has been talking with an editor about publishing his writing. Unfortunately word got around to Child Protective Services that Bambi and his son Day, have been living in a car and they are going to be removing Day from Bambi’s custody.
The movie clearly does not have one big happy ending but I saw it as an excellent depiction of growth and resilience as one man pursues a better life despite being weighed down by the devastatingly unfair prison system. I think the biggest takeaway from this film is how incredibly hard one has to work to succeed in life after prison when they do not have money, family, or resources, to aid them. Although at the end of the movie Bambi is still struggling financially and dealing with the temporary loss of his son, the viewer can still see that it is a tremendous improvement from where he started out and that though the road to victory is long and strenuous, Bambi defying the odds by making incredible changes in his life that are leading him towards a better future for him and his son.