While Easy's body is Devils most significant cinematic vehicle, several other bodies play important roles in the film's delivery of its political sensibility. Easy's emerging location in a network of bodies provides a context for discerning the politics of the distribution of the film's bodies. Crucial to an appreciation of the politics of Devil is a comparison of two of Easy's queries, one to Albright at the beginning of the film and one to Easy's friend, Odell, at the end. During his initial meeting with Albright in Joppy's bar, Easy asks about the kind of work Albright does. The response, after a hesitation, is, "I do favors for friends." At the end of the film the issue of friendship comes up again when Easy asks Odell if it is all right to retain the friendship of some one you know to do "bad things." Odell's response, "All you've got is your friends, Easy," is one of the story's most significant lines.
Throughout his odyssey, Easy is thrust into situations in which he must test the value of friendship and distinguish between true and false friends (including himself). This aspect of Easy's process of detection is more relevant to the film's disclosure of black micropolitics than his solving of the murders. Initially wary of Albright's kind of friendship, Easy's qualms are justified when Albright and his henchmen invade his home and threaten and brutalize him. After tracing this episode to Joppy Easy confronts him, and during their shouting match Joppy protests, "Look at me, Easy. I'm your friend," which locates Joppy alongside Albright as another false friend. But Easy himself proves false with respect to his friendship with Dupree, giving in to the temptation to have sex with Dupree's "woman," Coretta, at their house while Dupree is asleep in the next room. Later in the film, when Easy and Mouse visit Dupree in search of information, in a letter tucked into Coretta's Bible, which is still in the house, Easy says to Dupree, "I'm sorry." Although he is ostensibly offering his condolences, it is clear that the remark has a double resonance; it applies as well to his betrayal of their friendship, even though Dupree is unaware of Easy's transgression.
Two aspects of film form articulate Devil's politics of friendship. In the first, the viewer is made aware of good versus false friends through what Deleuze calls affection-images, consisting primarily of close-ups of faces.45 For example, both Albright's hesitation and Joppy's pleading remarks about friends are uttered during close-ups in which their faces betray their duplicity. Less immediately evident in terms of its meaning is a close-up of Odell, who is sitting at the same table with Easy, Dupree, and Coretta in the black club where Easy first makes his inquiries about Daphne. At the point at which Easy begins his queries and Coretta, after deflecting them, begins a flirtation with Easy, the viewer is shown a close-up of Odell's face, which registers alarm and worry. In retrospect, it becomes evident Odell was concerned about the trouble ahead for his friend. The other significant affection-images are of Mouse's face, especially when he anticipates expressing his friendship with Easy through the use of his gun. The grinning face (with flashing gold teeth) speaks both of his relish of violence and of the affirmation of friendship that it effects. However, Mouse is also a pivotal character because his role in the crime story bridges both aspects of the film's form-related treatment of friendship.
The close-ups give the viewers a chance to anticipate what Easy must ultimately do before he gives up the idea of being an employee and decides to own his own labor as a private detective (a decision revealed to Odell at the end of the film). Easy must achieve an amical phronesis; he must learn how to select friends as part of a micropolitics of survival, which he shares with others in the African American community. It is immediately clear to the viewer that Albright's friendship discourse is betrayed by the strategic look on his face and his bodily comportment. In a meditation on Aristotle's approach to the politics of friendship, Jacques Derrida provides a sketch that excludes people like Albright from the pool of possible friends:
Why are the mean, the malevolent, the ill-intentioned (phauloi) not, by definition, good friends? Because they prefer things (pragmata) to friends. They stock friends among things, they class friends at best among possessions, among good things. In the same stroke, they thus inscribe friends in a field of relativity and calculable hypotheses, in a hierarchical multiplicity of possessions and things.46
Albright conforms especially well to Derrida's description of the malevolent nonfriend because, beyond being ill intentioned and ruthlessly pragmatic, Albright explicitly regards Easy as a temporary possession, which he tells him when Easy tries to end his contract. In contrast, Mouse fulfills one of Derrida's criteria for the friend; he is someone whose friendship has endured a test of time. As Derrida puts it, "Primary friendship does not work without time . . . it never presents itself outside of time: there is no friend without time . . . and no confidence which does not measure up to some chronology, to the trial of a sensible duration of time."47
Although time is integral to the friendship phronesis that becomes a parallel investigation for Easy, the film's second aspect of its form-friendship construction is articulated through filmic space. Easy exists in a friendship network that extends to Houston (a place that, as I have noted, appears once in a flashback). Mouse's timely arrival from Houston to rescue his friend from having his throat cut, and ultimately from having two murders pinned on him, derives its political significance from the juxtaposition of two networks—the network of law enforcement personnel and its supplement constituting the criminal justice system, a racialized police-delinquency map ping of L.A., and the friendship network, which ultimately provides relief for Easy, who is victimized by the criminal justice network.
To understand these networks it is necessary to recognize that from the mid-twentieth century onward, L.A. has increasingly become an "urban landscape made up" (as one comprehensive interpretive mapping would have it), "of layers of premium network spaces, constructed for socio-economically affluent and corporate users, which are increasingly separated and partitioned from surrounding spaces of intensifying marginality—spaces where even basic connections with elsewhere, and basic rights to access spaces and networks, are increasingly problematic."48 As is made clear in Devil, it is the administration of the criminal justice system that connects the various partitioned spaces in a racially splintered L.A.—in ways that disadvantage the African American community. Effectively, Devil tells us, through form as well as storyline, that those who are unable to anticipate relief from either the electoral process or law enforcement must rely on friendship. Certainly Mouse does "bad things," as Easy recognizes. But as Odell reminds him, for African Americans especially, "all you've got are your friends."
We can locate Odell's insight in a political context that transcends the politics of the race-crime-law relationship within Los Angeles. Once we recognize the fragmented nature of America's urban landscapes, in which the geometry of the city must be seen as a historically effected collage of diverse life worlds, which have been coercively assembled by the trajectory of Jim Crow laws and practices, we are positioned to offer a challenge to the dominant political narrative of nation building, shared by the legitimation stories of many states and canonical political theory texts. Devil's larger contribution to political theory consists in its repudiation of the Hegelian narrative of modernity, in which (in the case of the European-inaugurated nation-state model) a state-managed political order effectively supercedes other modes of affiliation.
As Derrida notes at the beginning of his treatment of the politics of friendship, "[No] dialectic of the state ever breaks with what it supercedes . . . and from which it arises."49 Accordingly, if we turn our attention to such ra-cialized micropolitical orders as Los Angeles's African American community, we encounter an extrastate network based on historical grievance, on the history of a crime that has been constitutive of "the American political tradi tion." Mosley's crime story, which provides the basis for Carl Franklin's film Devil in a Blue Dress, is embedded in a more venerable (and continuing) crime story, the story of the historical trajectory of America's racial-spatial order.
Was this article helpful?