Prison Planet: The Future We Live In

It’s too bad Eugene Jarecki already used the title “Why We Fight” for his breakout 2006 documentary about war profiteering, because he could so perfectly have applied it to his newest movie, “The House I Live In.” It’s an examination of the drug war that does more than testify against America’s overtly racist drug laws or the justice-industrial complex of private prisons and the overtime-hungry cops who help fill them. The documentary, which won this year’s Sundance Grand Jury prize and will arrive in a handful of theaters this month, dares to suggest that human beings have a thing for destroying one another.

Jarecki makes a very compelling argument with the help of many interview subjects, but none more important than David Simon, a former crime reporter who created “The Wire,” a beloved TV show that may itself be confused for a documentary on the drug war. Simon spent a lot of time reporting on and dramatizing this conflict and its exhausted combatants, and he, along with historian Richard Lawrence Miller, ultimately express the documentary’s hidden thesis with brute force. The drug war is, they say, a “holocaust in slow motion.” The director reveals his climax like the denouement of a great mystery. It’s his Keyser Söze moment, and I won’t spoil it by elaborating further.

Long before then, Jarecki presents many perspectives of what he calls “a tragically misguided system that preys upon those least fortunate among us to sustain itself.” From the drug dealers to the judge, most of the director’s subjects agree that the system isn’t good for much, other than the mass transfer of poor people to jail.

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