This Spike Lee Drama on Amazon Prime Is Just *So* Good—Here’s Why You Need to Watch
*Warning: Minor spoilers ahead*
There is nothing quite like watching a Spike Lee joint. One moment, you're cackling at a clever one-liner and the next, you're either on the verge of tears or trying to dissect the layers of symbolism. It's why I've long admired the iconic director, who clearly has a knack for challenging fans through his powerful storytelling ability (see: Do the Right Thing). So of course, when I saw that his drama film, Pass Over, recently hit Amazon Prime, I just had to check it out.
To offer some background, the 2018 film is an adaptation of Antoinette Nwandu’s play of the same name. It's essentially a cross between the Biblical story of Passover and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, where Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker), two homeless Black men, dream of going to the “promised land.” However, despite their continued efforts, they remain trapped in a cycle they can’t seem to escape.
Although the poignant story was partly inspired by the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, it actually resonates even more deeply today, following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent outrage. But aside from its relevancy, it's worth noting that Pass Over is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Not only was I blown away by the cinematography, but I also cannot quit thinking about that chilling final scene (don’t worry, I won’t give it away). Here’s why I think you should add this gem to your queue.
1. It’s layered with meaning
As someone who spent a great deal of her childhood in Sunday School, it was fairly easy for me to recognize the parallels between the story of Passover and the men in the film. For those who aren't familiar, Passover is widely recognized as a holiday that celebrates the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. According to the Biblical account, a tyrannical Pharaoh attempts genocide out of fear that the Israelites will outnumber his own people. But fortunately, Moses’s life is spared, and he grows up to become a beacon of hope that would help free his people.
Before the Jews are freed, however, God sends down ten plagues on their oppressors, and for the final punishment, he passes through Egypt and strikes down every family’s firstborn child. However, he decides to “pass over” the homes of those who’ve marked their doors with the blood of a lamb (the Passover sacrifice).
As I watched the events of this film play out, from Moses calling the police the “angel of death” to their shared daydream of being in a land flowing with milk and honey, the more the film's title made sense. As I contemplated that phrase, “Pass over,” I thought, "When will the lives of the oppressed actually be valued and spared? Will there come a time when the community can celebrate their liberation from oppression and go to the promised land? Does the Black community stand a chance when they’re constantly forced to confront racists who insist on keeping them down?" It’s definitely a heavy topic, but still worth thinking about.
2. It balances tragedy and humor really well
Considering the heavy subject matter, it might sound odd to say that this movie made me laugh, but there are actually quite a few chuckle-worthy moments in there. For instance, there are lighthearted scenes where Moses and Kitch banter about collard greens, imaginary girlfriends and what they’re “fixin’ to do.” It’s fun to watch them fantasize about this promised land, and while these moments are unfortunately brief, their funny one-liners definitely helped balance out the seriousness of the film.
3. Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker are incredible
No, forget incredible. These men were simply outstanding. I could see the fear in their eyes as they dropped to the ground immediately after they heard gunshots fired. I could feel the growing tension in Moses’s face as Kitch recited the names of Black victims who lost their lives. From start to finish, these actors gave me all the chills.
4. It’s the perfect blend of theater and cinema
Simply put, Spike Lee is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. And if you need proof, then just take a look at the innovative way he brought Nwandu’s play to life. In the beginning, we're introduced to the Chicago community as they all head to the Steppenwolf Theatre to see the show. And when they get there, we see the entirety of the play performed on stage—but not from the audience's point of view. Instead, we get a variety of great angles from the stage, and during the play's pivotal moments, it cuts to the audience, featuring closeups of genuine reactions.
I'd never seen an adaptation done quite like this, but it worked brilliantly because it felt more intimate than your typical stage play adaptation.
Lee, if you happen to be reading this, thank you for this masterpiece.
PUREWOW RATING: 4.5 STARS
Although it's far from light viewing, the symbolism and sharp commentary will stick with you long after you finish this film.