Not since Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” an American film has delved this much into the inner psyche of a black, queer protagonist. I felt this while watching “The Inspection,” and to explain it further, I liked that the Elegance Bratton film decided to do that instead of just telling a surface-scratching story. There is a lot of shouting, screaming, and chest-thumping in it that comes contextually as the film primarily explores its protagonist’s life at a marine boot camp as a recruit. But it is the quiet, somber moments where the film shines the brightest. Most of the credit goes to Jeremy Pope’s astonishingly brilliant lead performance.
The A24-produced film does succumb to generic tropes, but each time it does, it also manages to rise again like a phoenix. The outcome is a heartfelt, honest story of a young man who finds much-needed hope by the time the narrative concludes. It stems from the debutant director’s own life experience, not to mention. We are gonna get into that in detail eventually, but first, let us dive into what happens in the film.
The Inspection (2022) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
The year is 2005, and we meet a young man in a red jacket, with an unkempt beard and messy hair, on the streets of Trenton, New Jersey. The man picks up some flowers and gets on the train, hinting that he is going to meet someone he loves. Upon seeing the reflection of his face on the train window, he quickly wipes off his lipstick.
This is a great opening scene where without uttering a single word, the movie manages to establish that whoever the man is going to meet disapproves of his lifestyle.
The person turned out to be his mother. And disapproving is an understatement, considering she does not even let him enter her apartment at first. Only when he informs that he wishes to join the US Marines he gets his way inside. Of course, his police officer mother, Inez French does not let him in without a look of derision, who we presume has disowned him long before.
By now, we have also realized that the reason the man, Ellis French, gets that kind of treatment from his own mother is nothing but his queer identity. Ellis does get his birth certificate from his mother, along with a mouthful where she demands him to come back as the son she always dreamt of, which, as we clearly understand, is a straight male. Really, woman?
Why does Ellis want to be a Marine?
In stark contrast to meeting his mother, Ellis receives a lot of kindness and warmth from an older black man he meets next. We don’t get to know his name, but with a very short conversation, the movie pretty much tells us everything we need to know. The man, who is also gay, sees his own self in Ellis. With all the love in his heart, he tells Ellis that joining the Marines is not essential to prove his worth.
But Ellis has had enough. Life has not been kind to him. And he needs something to happen — a purpose. And most essentially, some respect can only be found this way. So, off he goes. On his way to the boot camp, Ellis befriends a fellow recruit, Ismail, who is hazed by other recruits.
What happens at the Bootcamp?
Exactly what you would expect, yes, this is where we are greeted with the familiar tropes. An extreme, hard-ass training instructor Leland makes it very clear that he is going to break everyone (to get a real marine out of them, we suppose).
Then there is Harvey, a fellow recruit, who is what you can call the “typical white bully” every movie needs. After the initial struggle, Ellis gets some praise from Leland when he pushes himself to an extreme level to compete with Harvey. But a real nightmare is waiting around the corner to pounce on him.
How does Ellis’s sexuality get revealed to everyone, and what happens after that?
Despite all his efforts, Ellis’s true sexual orientation comes out in the open in the worst possible way when he zones out in the shower and gets an accidental erection. With Leland’s unofficial approval, Harvey and a few others beat him black and blue to fix him up.
The other recruits, including the black ones, start to isolate him because being around him makes them feel “uncomfortable.” Harvey and the other bullies continue to harass him for absolutely no reason with the support of Leland.
Who is Rosales, and how does he help Ellis?
When Ellis is first found in the shower, Leland’s fellow instructor Rosales requests a private moment with him which Leland obviously denies. Rosales later finds Ellis and comforts him. He becomes Ellis’s only beacon of light in the darkness.
Ellis reveals to Rosales how his mother kicked him out nine years ago when he was just sixteen, how most of his friends are dead, and why he wants to be a Marine because his death will at least make him “somebody” this way. Upon hearing all that, Rosales stops a dejected Ellis from quitting the camp and promises to help him survive.
The Inspection (2022) Movie Ending, Explained:
While Harvey and Leland continue to create obstacles in the path of Ellis, he shows a lot of character and keeps surviving. At the shooting range, Harvey tries to sabotage Ellis by falsifying the targets Ellis has hit. That backfires as Ismail and some other recruits, along with Rosales, intervene.
During the final test before graduation, Ellis finally gets his revenge in hand-to-hand combat with Harvey. But the movie plays it smart here by not focusing too much on that and quickly shifts to the scene where the recruits are having a conversation about what they will do next.
Upon not receiving any response from his mother, Ellis calls Inez from Rosales’s phone and requests her to come to his graduation. He tries to make a romantic advance to Rosales. But Rosales, who has a lot of martial trouble going at his home, refuses and asks Ellis not to proceed further.
On graduation day, Inez attends the ceremony, and she is delighted to see her son in uniform. Ellis reunites with his mother, who asks him to come back home. But the newfound warmth between the mother and son quickly fades away when Ellis firmly states that boot camp did not make him “straight,” contrary to what Inez thinks.
An angry, frustrated Inez publicly attacks her son for being gay and states he has no place in the army. But in what I consider the most riveting scene of the movie, Leland and the fellow graduated recruits stand with Ellis as they now consider him one of them, irrespective of anything.
Inez leaves, and Ellis goes after her and tells her that he is not going to give up on them. Inez tells him while she would always love him, she can never accept who he really is. The movie ends with Ellis being convocated at the Graduation ceremony.
The Inspection (2022) Themes Explained:
Even though “The Inspection” centers on Ellis and his journey, Ellis’s core theme is seeking his mother’s approval. Kids seeking their parent’s approval is very common, resulting from bad parenting, where a parent (or parents) continues to be hard on their child from a very young age. There might be so many justifications behind this behavior, the most common one being no matter what, a parent only wishes for his/her child’s welfare, but in no universe should it be considered okay.
The true reason for Ellis joining the Marine is his lifelong struggle to get approved by his mother, who wrote him off only because of his sexuality. This is the saddest possible thing that can happen to someone, and the movie originating from Bratton’s real-life story is even more heartbreaking.
The general homophobia found in State Military:
One of the very problematic issues of today’s world is the amount of homophobia that can be found at the top levels of the government, especially the army. The age-old, absolutely ridiculous myth of idealizing a straight male as a protector is the root of the problem.
While Elegance Bratton never faced that kind of trouble for his sexuality in the army at his time of serving, according to his own admission, there are many queer people who go through a lot of unnecessary traumatic experiences. Bratton purposefully showed that in this narrative in an attempt to represent those many unfortunate people.
As the movie progresses, we can see a certain change in attitude from the people who initially harass Ellis for being who he is. Even the villainous instructor, Leland, comes to the aid of Ellis and shows his support for him during the climax of the movie. Not that Ellis being a queer male, is accepted by Leland and the other bullies. However, with time his sexuality becomes a matter of irrelevance at his workplace, as things should be in an ideal world.
Having the character of Rosales, who stands against every single wrong thing, including Leland (there is a scene of confrontation between them), further benefits the narrative by offering the audience a clear perspective from the director himself. We get a clear idea of where the movie stands, which is a very effective way to make an impact.
Ellis is not the only recruit who is harassed by his fellow recruits and Leland. In a parallel track, the movie also focuses on the character of Ismail being treated in an unhealthy manner because of his religion. The usual American hatred for a certain religion due to a certain 9/11 is the cause here, which gets the proper clarification when Leland calls Ismail “Osama” in a scene and also puts him at the receiving end of target practice at the shooting range.
However, some characters, including Ellis, also stand against this religious discrimination. One of the recruits boldly refuses to participate in target practice when Ismail is at the other end. When the group of recruits attends a scheduled Christian sermon at a nearby church, Ismail feels extremely uncomfortable and naturally “out of place.” But Ellis, who is also not a Christian, promptly comforts him and asks the instructor if they could leave as they are not Christian.
Is The Inspection (2022) based on a true story?
I have already said before that “The Inspection” is inspired by director Elegance Bratton’s real-life experience. It is, indeed, based on the true story of Bratton being disowned by his mother at the age of 16 and his struggle as a black, queer American male.
Bratton labels his movie version, played by Pope, as a much more heroic person who does things he would never do in real life. He acknowledges the movie is based on his experience but not an act of straightforward recollection of his memories. To me, that sort of elevates the movie as Bratton’s decision to add the flairs in it makes it much more cinematic with a universal appeal
In a LA Times interview, Bratton mentioned that he grew up believing himself to be an “abomination” and tried to hide his real self as much as he could. Bratton enrolled in the Marine Corps to prove his worth as a “man” to his mother.
Sadly though, that never really happens in real life as his unyielding mother never accepts him and dies three days before “The Inspection” gets greenlit. Bratton has particularly thanked actress Gabrielle Union for playing the part and giving a sort of closure to him.
“The Inspection” is dedicated to Bratton’s mother.