Directed by: Marc Singer / 2000
Last summer my wife and I were dunked for the first time in full immersion to sights, sounds and smells of New York City...Metropolis...Gotham. And I was in childlike awe, excitement and love, feeling more comfortable and alive in the energy there than any other city. Visitor consensus is to look UP as the most populated skyline on Earth rises from the thick comforter of bedrock that anchors the island of Manhattan and the melting pot of all cultures and people of the world. It's easy to get caught up in the high-rise reality and realty space, easy to bath in the bright lights, decorations, ornaments, statues, advertising, whatever. Though, I did a half 'n' half mix of looking up and down, and not just in Apple’s underground store and salute to architecture with the see through lid. Not only were the sidewalks wall-to-wall with my fascination on the millions of legs and lives ebbing and flowing, my thoughts were simply on how the heck this place works!? With densely populated concrete and steel stacked shacks filtering cluttered garbage and sanitation down and out, somehow and the people...the people! Simmering below the mix is another layered city. This is one of darkened transportation tunnels and cavernous basement cubicles of pipes, trash, garbage, filth, rats...and more people. As you descend from the Manhattan Madhatters into the rabbit hole, "Dark Days" sheds light on a small clubhouse colony of downstairs denizens in the dilapidating tunnels of NYC. The scavenging of humans next to rats makes you think about the comparison conditions of the two. However, without actually do so, the movie raises awareness and ideas within, forcing me to double-take next time I think I have the right to think someone is homeless, jobless or even sometimes crazy, based on street encounter/appearance and pre-conceived notion. It's debatable and might cross some imaginary borders, but would you call Earth's first Adam's and Eve's and cave dwelling men as homeless and jobless? Or, were they simply adaptors of their environment, choosing a life of simplicity to just absorb God's handy work and of course pioneering for food, shelter, safety and whatever crafty ideas and inventions to help them along the way? A handful of times per week fellow office cubicle chum Chad and I pass across the underground long-distance email crisscross, "Were we really meant to sit in little cubicles for eight hours a day doing banal-flavored paper pushing, or meant to do whatever it is that every job-holding citizen does in order to keep another cubicle at home and buy and do things and be a certain way?" It wouldn't be the choice life for the majority, but are people with well-constructed scrap wood/cardboard/tarp homes, food, income, water, heating, home security systems, television, beds and electricity, all without a technically-structured speaking “home”, truly homeless? Are "homeless" people with more sense of a Christ-centered community, giving heart and soul less human than those centered with tiring work for a living, easy boredom, nice ‘n’ new things and locked doors to keep the neighbors out? True, it can break the heart to see brothers and sisters living in poverty on the street and squandering dreams and life. You don't wish for anyone to lack a better quality of life and healthcare (Though, some who do have "homes" tend to lack these benefits. But, I'll let Michael Moore tell that one). But, the lives documented in "Dark Days" seem more alive than most of us bland Bazooka-chewin’, stressed out, B.L.T. zombie workers bobbing for apple pie. The cavern colony in "Dark Days" bleeds red blood just the same, flowing more interestingly and having truly lived more than most lives upstairs. Though, I wouldn't trade my easy-as-pie-life-that-I-sometimes-whine-about in comparison to these people's past, present and possibly future sufferings, torments and heartbreaking confessions told in this documentary. Stories of bad decisions, jail time, narcotics, rehabilitation, crime, neglected and departed family and children, broken homes and loveless upbringing really do put the Hell on Earth factor into play. However, while many find cooked comfort in the crackpot, some find it in actual down home food cooked up in a pot (And I wanted to join them at the table). Some live cluttered and complicated, but you’d be surprised at the ones who live very well-maintained, groomed lives with rules and social etiquette. Some even make quite a bit of money to eat/play on, exchanging discarded household items still in working condition, along with recycling bottles and aluminum cans for cash. It’s a dirty living, but it pays and is better than the drugs that many choose. Some have the outside evidence that they could actually hold down really good jobs with their skills and smarts. There are also a few light-hearted moments of true friendship, conversation, love, caretaking of people and pets and a scene that moved me as one man was so excited about showing off pictures of many pets that he has had down in his plywood and cardboard clubhouse. For the kind of people that some of us would feel afraid of if we ran into them on the street, they seem to have more of a moral compass than most of us living above ground, if not the same mix. In fact, I’m sure we all know of, or have seen people living in actual “homes” who don’t quite have that thing that many of us are so quick to judge, “together”. As the constant thundering of trains finally ushers in armed Amtrak employees with a thirty days notice for all tunnel dwellers, even the ones that have been there 10-15-25 years, to pack it up and evict without any sort of social assistance, you get the harsh reality of the dog-like treatment and perception we above-grounders have on people who we think have less. I think it’s easy for us do-gooders to think, “This is ‘merica and I don’t feel sorry for you boo-who’s who can’t take care of your lazy selves.” But, some are beat to a pulp by life and family and thus turning to street comforts at a young age and to people who can sympathize or fulfill an immediate cope or cure. This can cause a real shift in the dominoes of life as upper society typically turns a nose and no entry sign, when all those suffering might need is a fist of four letter words like HELP or LOVE. The film’s final act finds the walls coming down that actually equals the excitement of the much bigger one in Berlin. A NYC social coalition steps in front of the Amtrak bullies and transfers those kicked from their makeshift homes into real ones and helps jobs attained and other services and rehabilitation if need be. While excitingly sprucing up his new apartment, one former underground dweller exclaims, “This is like giving a baby a new toy to play with each day. Every day is something new and good for me.” Others reflected on their lives and missed a few aspects of their former freedoms, but definitely preferred their turnarounds. I didn’t see “Dark Days” in a theatre setting when it first came out, but I think experiencing this movie on DVD is more rewarding. When the film ended I thirsted for wanting more and said, “So, what happened next?” I wanted more. Thankfully, bonus features gave me updated bios (some exciting, some heartbreaking) on what happens to the lives that took me under to their homes, and even helped me, when they came into my home for just an hour and twenty-four minutes this morning.