A.V. Rockwell’s directorial debut will stay with you. You’ll find your intrusive thoughts, your most zoned-out subconscious, to be alarmed by the bittersweet aftertaste this unequivocally numbing love letter to New York City leaves you with. And therein lies the most crucial quality of love, as aptly internalized by Rockwell—to love, one must acknowledge all that has gone terribly wrong. To love a place is to entwine one’s heart with the people and the communities that, despite their passionate efforts, are crushed under the draconian changes that benefit the privileged and the insistent neglect that rips off the ones who are battling all-encompassing scarcity to put food on the table and be the best that they can be. The strikingly enthralling Inez, the innately sensitive Terry, and the lovable screw-up Lucky in “A Thousand and One” may not be real people in a literal sense, but when you take a look at their lives, their hustles and struggles, and effervescent emotions, you can’t tell me that they aren’t a culmination of thousands of people who’ve more or less led the same lives and did their absolute best.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘A Thousand And One’?
There’s no glamor in the Rikers “A Thousand And One” opens with. But thankfully, we’re not going to be spending much time here. And neither is Inez, who, after doing time for boosting, is about to get out into the world, which isn’t all that dissimilar to prison for people whose circumstances have taken a pledge to make them fall down every time they try to get back up. Out into the cruel indifference of Brooklyn, Inez comes to accept that she’s not getting her job back. Doing hair for her friends around the shelter and handing out leaflets to the loud dismay of people who couldn’t care less aren’t substantial ways for Inez to get on with life. But then again, what is a substantial way for someone who grew up in the system and amongst feckless foster parents who were more starry-eyed about the cheques than anything else?
Unfamiliar to comfort and privilege, Inez has done what she could to get by while keeping her dream of being a hairdresser buried under the rubble of her gritty reality. Her little kid, Terry, is a victim of the same system that vanquishes all possibilities of a good life for Inez. The 22-year-old with a rather colorful record hanging over her as a perpetual curse finds herself in quite a pickle as she tries to rebuild her life so that she can be the mom that Terry deserves. Terry has had a hard enough life being bounced from one foster home to another, never finding one where his well-being is a priority. He’s too little to understand that it was her incarceration that took his mom away from him, and he is unsurprisingly feeling abandoned. Inez’s existence is ceaselessly threatened with poverty, homelessness, and even starvation—something that makes it even more impressive that she had the motivation to finish her GED while in prison. But there’s no one coddling Inez. Instead, she’s reminded of her generational privileges of opportunities every step of the way.
Survival In Harlem
It is the film’s unapologetic forthrightness about risky motifs that makes “A Thousand And One” an admirably brave mouthpiece for the misunderstood. The US’ child services, however well-intended, are often quick to provide unfeasible solutions with grave consequences. Instead of accounting for the circumstances of the parents and helping them do better in life, children are snatched only to be thrown into foster homes that do more harm than good. When Terry’s head is cracked while fleeing from who I can only assume is an abusive foster mother, and he ends up in a hospital, Inez decides that he’s better off living a life of poverty in her safe embrace than in a system where he may not even survive. So, she packs her bags and runs off to Harlem with little Terry in the hope of starting a relatively better life.
How quick the city is in dumping the search for the little boy tells you more about how unbothered they are about the lives they’re supposed to be responsible for than their boastful agenda. Scorned and harassed by her friend’s mother, who’s quick to judge the kind of mother she is, Inez makes a home with Terry in the tiny apartment she rents from an old black woman who has a daughter of her age and a grandson, Pea, who Terry finds a friend in. Community is all Inez can rely on when she ditches her dream of becoming a hairdresser and leaves her son alone in the apartment when she goes out to hustle at her janitorial job, a 2-hour train ride away. Having a little side hustle of doing hair for the black women in her locale who don’t really have salons that cater to their specific needs is how Inez makes enough dough to put food on the table and get false documents for her son so that no one can take him away. Terry isn’t too fond of going by Daryl, and his little heart is often hurt by the harsh protectiveness of her mother. But there’s no one he would rather be with, and there’s certainly no distance that Inez wouldn’t go to give her son the life that she never had.
A Turbulent Marriage
‘A Thousand And One’ is intrepidly honest before it’s anything else. There’s no bias in A.V. Rockwell’s painstakingly authentic image of the black and brown communities in the ever-changing and cold New York. So, the cracks in Inez’s moralities manifest as rapidly as her charming tenacity. Terry’s father’s identity has always been a question mark. When Inez’s boyfriend Lucky gets out of prison and back into her life, it is as though she insistently attempts to make her denial come true and convince him that Terry is his son. There’s a lot wrong with Lucky. The more you see of him and his sketchy demeanor, the more you anticipate the possibility of abandonment. But Lucky sticks around—albeit quite falteringly more often than not. It doesn’t even come as a shock that the two emotionally dysfunctional individuals decide to make their family official and get married.
Lucky’s infidelity and flightiness seem to burden Inez’s well-being only to the extent of lashing out with no move made to get herself out of the sham of a relationship. But that’s what Inez grew up knowing. Bearing the bare minimum women get from men who are just okay enough to tolerate. They may leave and go AWOL, but as long as they come back every time, you hold on to that man. They may play around with your heart while breaking a few more out in the wild, but as long as you’re his wife, you hold on to that man. Lucky is in no way a great man. Although his love for Terry turns out the be the only aspect of him that doesn’t alter with changing times, several crucial time jumps find Inez in a consecutively deteriorating state. Rockwell evokes a sullen actualization when Inez’s fire dies out, which occurs in parallel to the decline of New York.
Echoes of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s infamous “stop and frisk” policies are seen in effect when racist cops bully Terry and Pea for no reason whatsoever. But Terry endures. As does Inez, who is overcome by the grind as it is the only thing that is keeping her and her son afloat. Through Inez and Terry’s generational disparities, Rockwell underprops a striking universal conflict that is as old as the beginning of time. Living vicariously through her son, Inez may want all the best things in the world for Terry, but the trouble with it is that Terry doesn’t want the same things as his mother. He’s flourishing in academia, so much so that he’s told to take tests that can grant him further opportunities that will be a boon for higher studies and a steady career. But with newer privileges come newer options. And Terry hasn’t had the time to pick out his path yet. All he knows is that tech school is something that will crush his soul. All his mother knows is that Terry must reap the most out of everything he is getting, everything she didn’t.
‘A Thousand And One’ Ending Explained – Why Did Inez Kidnap Terry?
The misogyny thriving in her community hasn’t spared the little nest that Inez has woven for her family. Seeing what he’s seen all his life, Terry has grown up believing that he should be more like Lucky than anyone else. He had followed in Lucky’s footsteps to the T. Reminiscent anecdotes of the time when Lucky met and wooed Inez is exactly what Terry uses as a mold to form his image for a girl he likes. Old cassettes that he’s inherited from Lucky, who is now bound to the hospital bed after being diagnosed with cancer, are what nudge Terry to look into a career in producing music. He has even fashioned his chivalry after Lucky’s image.
Consciously and noticeably, Terry copies Lucky’s chivalrous move of walking on the roadside when he’s out with a woman or a child. He’s conveniently turned a blind eye to Lucky’s severe shortcomings and even blames his mother for causing his death. It hits him hard when, in the wake, he’s faced with another woman who Lucky had a child with and left them with nothing but disappointments. Although it is softened with an affectionate note of motherly love, Inez’s disillusionment of the kind of person that Terry is turning out to be is one of the most vulnerable moments of defeat that the otherwise strong-willed Inez usually steers clear of. Her hope dies a thousand times with buildings growing like mushrooms in a city that is progressively repulsed by the likes of her. New York’s intolerant gentrification is welcomed with open arms by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who would rather rich white people take over the dilapidated homes and boot out the poor communities of racial minorities than actually do something for the people who need help the most.
The second Inez laid eyes on the white landlord taking over the building on the other side of the street; she knew that it was only a matter of time until it was her building’s turn. And the fear came true. You are to helplessly watch Inez open the door to the wolf in sheep’s clothing who promises to refurbish her apartment and makes it uninhabitable to push her out. Inez knows that the time is nearing for her to look for a place elsewhere. She hasn’t had the time or the privilege to tie up the loose ends of a past that shouldn’t resurface. So, when Terry submits the fake documents and his teacher comes to know that he’s living under a false name with a false social security number, Inez knows that she can no longer hold off the trouble that is headed her way. She is AWOL on the day that the teacher shows up with a social services employee and two cops, and Terry learns a traumatizing truth about his life. Inez is not his biological mother, and she kidnapped him when he was a child.
When Inez does show up again and faces Terry’s desperate questions, she toggles between her apology and a straight-faced justification of what she has done. Inez saw little Terry on the sidewalk, and when no one came to pick him up for the entire day, Inez took it upon herself to keep him safe from the boilerplate abusive system that had crushed her. In saving Terry, she wanted to save herself. Inez’s flawed understanding of motherhood and the effects of burdening a child with an adult’s tumultuous emotions isn’t lost on her. She knows that she should’ve done better, but at the same time, she also knows that the life she has given him is far better than the life he would’ve received from the uncaring state. Even in his devastated acceptance that nothing of the life he has grown up knowing has been true, Terry’s heart is big enough to acknowledge that the person he believes to be his mother gave it her all for him to have a decent life and a chance to make something of himself.
When it’s time for the tearful goodbye, A.V. Rockwell taps into the treasure chest of her emotions to dawn a hopeful beginning from the ashes of a heartbreaking end. Inez, Terry, and Lucky may not be real people, but they are the essence of the director’s memories of her beloved New York and her experiences of getting immeasurable love and support from her community of racial minorities. The beauty of needing to save when the savior is the one that needs saving cloaks the narrative that is mindful of not justifying the wrongs of the battered or romanticizing the struggles of impoverishment.