“Tupac: Resurrection” is everything you wanted to know about gangsta rap but were too afraid to ask. (As a white person, I know it can be intimidating). Directed by Lauren Lazin, the film spans the all-too-brief life of rap artist Tupac Shakur from his humble beginnings as a struggling actor in Baltimore to his meteoric rise to stardom with his debut album “2pacalypse Now” (1991). Told in the rapper’s own voice, the constant voice-over narration is pieced together from various in-depth interviews with Tupac over the years. Although it gives the film a biographical quality, it also makes the film a little unnerving, since anyone familiar with the life of Tupac knows that he died in 1996 while stopped at a red light in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the first time that the rapper had seen the wrong side of a gun, but it was the last time he would see the light of day. The film launches backwards from this point (after the obligatory and shocking sound of off-screen gunfire), quickly bringing us up to speed on the events culminating in his eventual murder. It paints the portrait of a man who spoke his mind, did what he pleased, and lived life by his own code — consequences be damned.
In this age of image-conscious music artists, Tupac Shakur seems like something of a throwback. He belongs to an age when rap was truly gangsta: when the artists were dealing drugs when they weren’t laying down tracks, and when the only ticket out of the ghetto was to make it rich or die trying. This was the image of “Thug Life” Tupac codified. He became the personification of that kind of existence, with the anthem literally tattooed across his stomach.
Tupac rode the crest of stardom and became a type of folk hero to the disenfranchised and downtrodden, in the same way that his mother, Afeni Shakur, did before him as a member of the Black Panthers. Yet Tupac came of age at a time when idealistic political activism had been crushed by years of defeat. His message was one of desperation and violent action — to survive by any means, no matter how self-destructive they ultimately proved to be.
“Tupac: Resurrection” reveals a character too complex to pigeonhole. Shakur proves to be well-spoken, socially conscious and self-conscious, and at the same time extremely violent and abrasive. How can you reconcile the inevitable inconsistencies that arise when someone says whatever is on his mind at all times? In this way the film avoids nice, neat conclusions. Like any good documentary, it allows you to leave the theater with more questions than answers.
The film’s major flaw is its singular subjectivity. Shakur’s voice guides the viewer the whole way, and since the film is all about him, it’s difficult to believe that we are hearing every side of the story (the fact that it was co-produced by his mother doesn’t help much in this regard). But Shakur’s persona proves so powerful and mesmerizing that it’s difficult not to be swept away. We feel an irresistible attraction to this man who was unafraid to live life large, steal the spotlight, and burn brightly for the brief time he had.
Tupac Shakur has rightfully attained a place in pop mythology alongside James Dean and Kurt Kobain. This documentary is just further proof of their collective message: when you live for the moment, life is brief.