They scavenge for food in black trash bags. Use leaky pipes as a way to shower. Use a bucket in place of a toilet. Share their childhood and current problems with one another. They even cut one another’s hair and help one another shave. These are the lives of the homeless portrayed in the film “Dark Days,” directed by Marc Singer.
Living in the absolute dark with no family or a place to call home, these people have formed their own community in the underground tunnels of train stations in New York City. Together, these people use their resourcefulness to survive in inconceivable conditions.
“They’re amazing. I mean could we live like they are doing and have a decent attitude? It’s impressive actually,” Professor of Film Studies, Ted White, said.
The homeless are shown making food, searching for bottles, and even playing with their pets. To them, it’s a normal life- a life lived just like any other. However, their lives differ in the sense that their choices, struggles, and hardships have dealt them a life that must be spent underground.
“Sometimes they have some bad habits, and some bad luck, and it’s sort of like all of us, but their situations have brought them to more extreme living conditions and I think it’s really important to get to know that so we can have more compassion to consider these people as peers, rather than weirdoes who made a bunch of mistakes, who don’t really deserve help,” White said.
Singer, who was not a filmmaker before this, went down to the tunnels and got to know the people who call this place their home. He involved the homeless as crew members, allowing them to help build camera dollies and rig up lighting. “He allowed them to express themselves and then help them get out of there,” White said.
“Dark Days” was an opportunity for Singer to communicate what it is like to be homeless. “People who are not homeless can’t possibly imagine what it is like to survive without a home, or the many different factors that contribute to someone having to live on the street. I think that films have the power to communicate some of this information,” Assistant Professor of Film, Debra White-Stanley, said.
Learning and viewing the discrepancies between classes can allow people to accept and be exposed to harsh realities. Films often depict the wealthier side of the class system, never the dirty, gritty side. Many people do not possess the funds to go shopping, purchase expensive gifts, or take vacations. “All these activities are routinely depicted in Hollywood films and we take them for granted. When a film departs from these patterns, then we take notice,” White-Stanley said.
“Dark Days,” which was released in 2000, on one screen, made only a fraction of what studio films make. “Some people might actually be afraid to see this film for fear that it would make them feel sad or hopeless. Maybe they have never known someone who is homeless, or feel afraid to learn more about that topic,” White-Stanley said.
The portrayal that Singer showcases offers a truer depiction of what homeless life is like. Not all of these people have been sucked into this lifestyle through drug use or abuse; most were in a bad situation at a bad time.
These people took this small underground space and made it into a village and created their own definition of a family. “It just shows the side of the homeless that is kind of like us and I think that will have a great impact on people who have seen it,” White said.
However, this film has the power to make audience members realize what they are thankful for- things often taken for granted. Home-cooked meals, beds without garbage pollution, and homes free of the occupancy of rats are things the homeless of “Dark Days” do not possess.
“They barely have water to wash themselves with or food,” Katie Tordonato said. This film makes students like Tordonato and Lara Underkoffler appreciate the basics in life. “They had their own little family, but it’s nice to have people that can help and support me,” Underkoffler said.
“Dark Days” represents the idea that it takes time, energy, and willpower to improve one’s life. The people featured in this film demonstrate the strength it takes to overcome adversity.
“This film about the way that the homeless live underneath the city has a lot to offer viewers who have not yet seen it. It has the power to inspire us to live our lives in a way that could create cultural change and raise awareness of inequality in our society,” White- Stanley said.
Samantha Norton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org