American History X (Movie) Ending Explained

This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of “American History X” (1998). Beware of spoilers.

Directed by Tony Kaye, the 1998 drama stars Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard and Edward Furlong as Danny Vinyard.

The film “American History X” is about two brothers, Derek and Dan, who get involved in a neo-Nazi group in Los Angeles. About three years ago, Derek was sentenced to prison for the brutal murder of two black men who were trying to steal his car.

What Happens in “American History X”? (Plot Explained)

While incarcerated, Derek befriends a black inmate named Lamont, who works with him in the laundry room and helps him change his views on race and hate. As Derek navigates through prison life, he meets violence and hostility from both black and white inmates.

Meanwhile, Danny follows Derek’s footsteps and joins the same neo-Nazi group, led by Cameron, a charismatic and manipulative leader. He often hangs out with Seth, a violent and racist skinhead. Derek’s former teacher, Dr. Sweeney, notices Danny going down the same path as his brother. To change Danny’s ways, Sweeney orders him to write an essay about Derek’s life and how it affected him.

When Derek is released from prison, he tries to reconnect with his family and protect Danny from the neo-Nazi group. Derek even takes a step further, he confronts Cameron and renounces the group’s ideology and violence.

Then, Derek reveals to Danny what really happened in prison and how it changed his outlook on life. After hearing his brother’s story, Danny decides to change his ways and abandon the neo-Nazi group.

The Ending of “American History X” Explained

The ending of “American History X” shows a black student shooting Danny at his school, someone with whom the latter had a previous confrontation. Derek arrives at the scene and holds Danny’s lifeless body in his arms. The film ends with a voice-over of Danny reading his essay, in which he quotes Abraham Lincoln: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

Who shot Danny in American History X?

The young man who shot Danny Vinyard is the black student whom Danny previously antagonized at school by blowing smoke in his face. There are other theories suggesting that the guy is connected to the man that Derek previously killed (the curb victim). He is either the little brother or at least affiliated with the same gang.

What is the significance of the shower scene?

The shower scene at the end of American History X is very significant. It shows that Derek, the former neo-Nazi leader, has changed his views and regrets his past actions. He is no longer proud of his swastika tattoo and what it represents. After getting out of prison, Derek also realizes that his hatred has cost him his family and his freedom.

What is the message of “American History X”?

The film “American History X” tries to convey the message that hate is a dangerous cycle. It leads to violence and unpredictable consequences. Hate and prejudice are harmful not only to the victims but also to the perpetrators. Nonetheless, it’s possible to prevent it through education and compassion.

As the story unravels, Derek goes through a major character transformation. He went from a hateful extremist to a “reformed” human being. However, redemption doesn’t come easily, and Derek still had to face the consequences of his past decisions. Unfortunately for the protagonist, it came at the cost of his little brother’s life, who had to meet a tragic end.

Sadly, the film doesn’t have a happy ending, but it has a rather realistic one. The ending of “American History X” suggests that racism is a destructive ideology and that violence only breeds more violence. Although Derek tries his best to protect Danny, past actions are irreversible and have their own repercussions in the present.

“American History X” Discussion

The film “American History X” explores the themes of racism, hate, and redemption. It uses various symbols to convey its message: black and white, the swastika tattoo, the curb and the American flag.

The black and while filter serves to illustrate Derek Vinyard’s violent past and show that this side of him is history. In addition, this particular technique also emphasizes the unwavering ideologies that neo-Nazis live by.

Then there is the swastika tattoo. In the beginning, Derek wore the neo-Nazi symbol with great pride and joy. But after seeing the hypocrisy of the movement and weighing what he lost in the process, the swastika has become a symbol of shame.

The curb stomping scene holds a special significance in “American History X” because it shows the extreme violence and hatred that used to govern Derek’s life. In this particular scene, the victim was no longer a person in Derek’s eyes, he was just a target for his rage.

Last but not least, the American flag is a symbol of the characters’ misguided patriotism. Their prejudice and hateful beliefs are a distorted version of the American dream. Also, the object foreshadows the hate and violence brought upon by extreme ideologies.

“American History X” is an essay about racism and mostly human nature. It shows how easy it is to blame one’s problems on others rather than actually reflect on the real issues. In addition, the story highlights the need to educate oneself on matters before formulating an opinion on them.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, “American History X” is a masterpiece of cinema that explores the complex and disturbing realities of racism, violence, and redemption. The film has a timeless story that shows how people can change and overcome their prejudices. In addition, it showcases the consequences of their actions and how they can haunt them and affect those they love.

One of the aspects that makes “American History X” a provocative and challenging piece of art is that it does not shy away from showing the brutal and graphic scenes of violence and discrimination that the characters experience. The film raises important questions about the roots and effects of racism, the role of family and education, and the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.

Edward Norton’s performance as Derek Vinyard is one of the best of his entire career. The actor delivers a powerful portrayal of a complex and conflicted character. Norton made Derek’s transformation from a ruthless neo-Nazi gang leader to a reformed man believable.

Not only that, but Edward Norton makes the audience root for his character when Derek tries to save his brother from making the same mistakes. There is intensity and vulnerability in his character, and Norton’s physical and emotional transformation was definitely impressive.

Overall, “American History X” is a very noteworthy watch. It’s a work that deserves discussion, as it offers a compelling and realistic depiction of one of the most serious and relevant issues in our society. The storytelling, editing, music and acting create a memorable cinematic experience that will haunt the audience long after watching it.