Krystin Ver Linden’s film, “Alice,” is a political revenge thriller that ably showcases the issue of slavery and how it affected American society during the 1970s. The two main characters here are used to show the two sides of slavery, the oppressing and the oppressed, which ultimately leads to a vengeful yet cathartic ending. The film also manipulates the emotions involved in a way to add to the story’s arc. This is what makes Krystin Ver Linden’s film worth watching.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
It is 1973, and Paul Bennet (Jonny Lee Miller) has kept a number of enslaved people at his house. One day, lovers Alice (Keke Palmer) and Joseph (Gaius Charles), both enslaved domestics, decide to flee. But unfortunately, Joseph is shot and is apparently dead, whereas Alice’s outburst and attack make Paul tie her to a stake on the ground outside the house. The next day, Alice manages to wound Paul and escape into a world that she knows absolutely nothing about. She is brought home by Frank, who helps her understand the world she is in. Here’s where Alice realizes that slavery is extinct, but her family is still working as domestics under Paul. Ultimately, she decides to take revenge on Paul and free her family. She arrives at the house along with Frank, where she confronts Paul and ties him to the stake on the ground, thereby taking her revenge. She is also overwhelmed to find out that Joseph is, in fact, not dead but alive. And it is made clear that they will live happily ever after.
Mr. Paul: The Owner
Mr. Paul plays an important role in establishing not just Alice’s character but the presence of slavery and the unjust treatment that the black people of America received during the second half of the 20th century. Paul knows that Joseph and Alice love each other. This is something he clearly doesn’t like, and he does what’s in his power to keep them away from each other. He decides to get Joseph married to another woman. Ultimately, it seems that Joseph is killed while he tries to escape with her. Alice is caught beforehand, while Joseph is shot by Paul’s assistant, Aaron.
Does Mr. Paul feel pain because Alice is crying for Joseph? Sure enough, sometime later, he does confess that he likes her. It is surreal how a person can evoke hatred and affection simultaneously. Paul is also clearly angry at himself, perhaps because he didn’t want to get Joseph killed, something which he knew would hurt Alice a lot. At the same time, it is the inherent urge to dominate that makes him get Joseph killed for his actions. Again, what she has done is perhaps disrespect him by falling in love with Joseph. Slavery is emotionally at its worst here.
When Paul brings home Daniel, he tells him that a man is rich not by what he owns but by what he can do without. This is very ironic coming from Paul because his richness is in his domestic workers, and he cannot do anything without them. So basically, he isn’t rich at all.
“What did I do to deserve this?” This exclamation from Paul as he and Aaron tie her to a stake in the ground after her outburst only goes on to show his constant denial of his own actions. Paul knows what he has done, and yet he is asking Alice for the answer because his actions were meant to be right, or so he thinks. He doesn’t care about her or what she goes through as long as she listens to him. But the moment she retaliates, he loses his temper.
Now, this temper can also be something that Paul feels for himself. But his pride gets in the way, and so he vents it out on the one person over whom he can establish control, i.e., Alice. Later on, he unties her, saying that God’s greatest gift is forgiveness. But does he really forgive her? The question that arises here is to what extent is forgiveness acceptable? Paul almost killed Alice, and it seems that saving her life is Paul’s act of forgiveness. In this way, Paul does place himself in God’s position.
Alice Finally Attains Freedom
She isn’t free when Frank takes her to the hospital. She isn’t free when Frank brings her to his grandma’s place. Alice is free when she finds out what it means to be enslaved. All this time, she had no idea that she was enslaved or that she could be free. She didn’t even know what “slave” meant. She has been merely a domestic all her life. When she reads about the Emancipation Proclamation by US president Abraham Lincoln, she realizes that people who were once enslaved aren’t so anymore. They are entitled to freedom, and there was a revolution going on against the treatment of black people (during the second half of the 20th century). After that, she discovers herself in a new way by reading about Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, and all the other renowned human rights activists who stood up for the rights of black people. She even finds out about Pam Grier, one of the most influential black actresses of the 70s. (She is famous for the action movies that have garnered her the title of the first female action star by Quentin Tarantino.) So, while on the one hand, she gets her freedom, on the other hand, she also undergoes a radical change, one that enables her to take charge of her life.
Her meeting with Paul’s wife, Rachel, seems forced and is only used as a stepping stone to give her character that much-needed thrust. She tells that she is freedom and this particular line tells a lot about her sufferings and the rage. And not just Alice but of all the black people, all of these seem to have been turned into a ball of fire that is thrown Rachel’s way but whose heat reaches us as well. If she had said, “I am free,” it would have been a usual reaction. But the use of the word “freedom” does uplift her character, making it personify freedom and giving her the needed push to face Paul (the personification of slavery).
When Alice confronts Paul, she tells him how all the lies he told them to make himself feel important are coming down before his eyes. This takes us back to when we were talking about Paul. He had perhaps already realized that it was only a matter of time before he would lose his “domestics.” And all that he could do was lie to his workers, probably by telling them that they were bound to serve him. This way, he would feel important. This arrogance, however, would not last long, as not only does Alice, whom he liked, flee, but she also returns to burst his bubble of slavery.
The Zippo Lighter
The lighter that Joseph discovered in the grave is the same lighter that Alice uses to burn down the jungle. This lighter, in all probability, symbolizes freedom. The man Joseph’s grandfather came across, who gifted him the lighter, was apparently killed by Paul and buried nearby. This symbolizes how Joseph’s grandfather was kept from the “fire” of freedom. This also relates to something that Paul mentions to Alice towards the end of the film: “I just never told them that they could go.” However, she is the one who comes into possession of the “fire” (lighter), possibly from Joseph’s pocket, and, at the end of the film, sets ablaze the place where she served as an enslaved person along with her family, thus ushering in freedom.
‘Alice’ Ending Explained: Is Her Revenge Justified?
We know that Alice, along with her family, lover, and others, was tortured by Paul and his family. He also kept them all in the dark about the fact that they were legally free, and nobody had the right to keep them as “domestics.” Thus, when she escapes and finds out about slavery and its abolishment, she decides to take revenge on Paul and free her family. In the final scene of the film, we see Alice shoot Paul in the legs and leave him the way he once left her, i.e., tied to a stake in the ground. Clearly, it is her revenge that made her do this.
But the question is, can we judge her for her revenge? Does all the suffering that she and her family have endured for so many years allow her to point a gun at Paul? In judging her, we might judge ourselves too. But the fact that she doesn’t kill Paul provides us with the catharsis that tells us that she is genuinely good at heart. Perhaps this is why she gets the love of her life, Joseph, back. The film is rightfully named after the protagonist, as she is both the subject and the morality of the film.
“Alice” is a 2022 political revenge thriller directed by Krystin Ver Linden.