Wednesday, December 1

Mass: the movie that dares to explore the unimaginable pain of school shootings | Films

IUnderstandably, your first question about the movie Mass, set six years after a school shooting in the US, is: why watch? Why plunge into the unimaginable pain of two families who lost their children that day: one, Ray (Jason Isaacs) and Gail’s (Martha Plimpton), at the hands of the other, mourned only by their parents, Linda (Ann Dowd ) and Richard (Reed Birney).

Written and directed by actor Fran Kranz, Mass takes on the delicate and daunting task of bridging the depressingly familiar and the utterly unthinkable. Much has been said about the utter insanity of routine mass shootings in America: the pain, the frustration, the bitterness of the families, the cliched reactions of everyone else, necessarily washed up and recycled: “There is no way to prevent this, says only the nation where this happens regularly ”. as the Onion headline says it has been posted 18 times since 2014. It is also impossible to fully capture the truly unfathomable pain of being on the other side of numbing headlines.

But with the help of four tour de force performances, the film navigates between two poles, neither too paralyzing recognizable, nor too paralyzing horrible, to provide an exercise in empathy for the viewer, to find clarity in the unsolvable mess of guilt. It is an unbearable watch. I was restless throughout the whole thing, the discomfort bordering on what I could and would allow myself to feel, but not excessive or impossible. It’s a rare movie that engages with a subject as loaded, charged, and leaden as school shootings and doesn’t collapse under the weight of circular conversations.

It does so by being intensely and exclusively personal. Mass takes place almost entirely in the sparsely decorated basement room of an Episcopal church somewhere west of the mountain (it was filmed in Idaho). There are no flashbacks of past lives, no media snippets; The photos that Gail shows Linda and Richard of their son Evan are far from the viewer. Franz’s camera hovers around the indescribable folding table, never leaving the room before the characters. The script traces the entire arc of the conversation (nervous politeness, seething mistrust, confrontation, an uneven understanding) between the two sets of parents, without the supervision of a lawyer or therapist and without limits of any clear conclusion. Maybe I can pick up on couples’ political leanings, but they are oblivious to an hour fueled by emotional recognition, the need to feel understood, if not catharsis.

Kranz’s scripts provide enough detail for 122 minutes for one to get the simplest sketches of what happened to the couples’ teenage children, but the pacing allows the audience to provide most of the context for their own coverage super-cuts of news dating back to Columbine. You don’t need a lot of description from Richard about the school’s eagle-eye vision on TV, or from Jay about his activism in the last two years, or from Gail about the last families they left waiting in the gym, to conjure up images. . , headlines, reports, interviews from Parkland, Sandy Hook, Orlando, El Paso and others.

Each of the four main artists skillfully handles those heady, combustible and twisted emotions: pain, of course, but also fury, outrage, envy, pettiness, relief, defensiveness. It is perhaps trivial to say that the film persists in the mess of unsolved things: Jay and Gail want to blame Richard and Linda for their son, who had abundant mental health problems; the shooter’s parents also want their pain honored; nothing in this exercise stops anyone or brings anyone back. But much of how we talk now about shootings, about the aftermath, about “moving on” seems trite. That’s what happens when the same thing, or variations of it, happen over and over again, when a country and a media-consuming public get used to horror.

Ann Dowd in Mass.
Ann Dowd in Mass. Photography: Sundance

For the Mass to work, it has to not only cut through that horror, but mold it into something beyond hard work or torturing pornography; there has to be an emotional and personal point to listen, one that also doesn’t fit some bigger point on how all this could turn into something better. That search for meaning prompts Jay and Gail to enter the room with Linda and Richard, although, if you begin to imagine the contours of their pain, you probably have already figured it out. In a highlight of an absolutely outstanding performance, Linda from Plimpton finally admits, another hour into the conversation and turned away by a chair in the back corner, that she appeared in the hope of turning her son’s life into something meaningful, as if the memories weren’t enough.

The question of utility: what is all this feeling for? – courses throughout the film. Time and time again, Mass brings viewers to the threshold of uncontrollable and utterly abysmal emotions. There is a limit to what you can do, on a structural level, obviously, but also on an emotional level. It does not explicitly defend or change the lax gun laws in this country; Nor can you convey exactly what it feels like to cross over to your worst nightmare and move on.

I left the theater feeling my empathy condenser stretch and knead, with no responses or coherence. Above all, it made me grateful that I could still hold on to my 19-year-old brother, that my parents saw me grow beyond the sketches of a person I was at 17. Living in America now is knowing that. a horror could happen anywhere, that it will happen again, that the chances that it is you or your son, brother or friend are low but not impossible. We know what it looks like. Mass is as good an argument as a movie to de-compartmentalize that, without exploitation, just for a moment, that the work of feeling the loss of another, of looking where we do not want and keeping the gaze, is worth it. effort.

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