Since I had first heard about this film, my perspective on the subject matter has changed somewhat. I wasn’t touched, personally, by the shooting at Columbine, and was sort of ignorant of how bad it was when it actually happened. I haven’t had much more experience with that kind of violence – or any violence for that matter, and for which I thank my lucky stars – other than the DC Sniper incident in 2002 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. I didn’t know people who were wounded or killed in any of these three events, but the fact is that the last two came close enough to just brush up against my life, and were geographically close enough to me to make me paranoid to go to school and to go into not just DC, but the suburbs where the shootings actually happened. That being said, the DC Sniper incident was not school-related, but affected me in my school life, as the high school went on lockdown and security alert for over two months.
Needless to say, I had some preconceived notions about the theme of the film as I sat down to watch it.
Ultimately, the film is brilliant. Visually, thematically, it’s remarkable. The use of slow motion and editing are amazing, building up the suspense from the beginning to the end. The film has no real introduction or conclusion, which, on the one hand is fascinating and brilliant, and on the other hand, is extremely irritating. Which is exactly the point, I’m sure. As an audience member, you keep anticipating when the moment will happen. When the boys will walk into the building. When the gunshots will start. When the horror will commence. Until the moment arrives, obviously, you’re never right, and even when it does begin, it’s pieced together in a way that surprises you.
There are so many single-shot scenes; it’s up on the level of Children of Men, if you ask me, and in these sequences are the use of slow motion, which I don’t think Children of Men ever did. Not to diss Children of Men, however, I love it.
The other social points made throughout the film were marvelous. Eating disorders for one, when the three girls go into the bathroom, seemingly to check their make up then use the toilet, but instead they all throw up simultaneously. It was almost as grotesque as some of the violence, in my opinion.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film for me, was when the one outcast female character is changing in the locker room, and the preppy girls, nearby, are talking about her. You never see them, only hear their comments. I’ve been in that position before, hearing the comments, making myself not look, not cry, not care. Some people find that hard to believe, but I was not one of the popular crowd; I was made fun of because of how shy I was and how un-cool I dressed. The scene hit very close to home and I thought that the emotions captured and conveyed were some of the strongest in the whole film.
The person I watched it with gasped and reacted harshly as we watched it. I jumped, certainly, but I didn’t react quite so strongly in the moment. We both were surprised that the students and faculty and victims didn’t react more strongly to what happened around them, but I assumed that their lack of immediate horror was due to shock and incomprehension at what was happening.
I wasn’t sure when they decided to do the shooting. They clearly plan it out, but I didn’t see them make the decision. I’m not sure if I just missed it, or if there was supposed to be a missing piece of the puzzle.
Furthermore, I didn’t like the detached nature of the shooters. Especially that the leader of the two kills his partner. It turned him from an abused high-school shooter into a serial killer, the detached nature of his kills. His partner, whom he shoots, had a vindictive nature, which is demonstrated as he yells at the principal, referencing how he “fucked with” them. Perhaps what Ritchie was going for is the idea that if these instincts and characteristics aren’t stopped, then that’s what they become; the snowball effect. In that event, I suppose I can understand it, but I’m not sure that I appreciate it very much. In all of my experiences with these outbursts of violence in the school system, it’s been that there were obvious warning signs as to what would happen, that these were troubled, mistreated kids that were headed down a bad road, but which went unattended by guidance councilors and teachers and parents. They had a specific goal, a specific intention, targets, and motivation behind their killings. Furthermore, a huge problem was the lack of security, that the police didn’t arrive in time, and the only sign of that in the film was that there was no police. I don’t think anyone even calls 911. I can’t imagine that in that situation no one would, especially not now, in the age of the cell phone. I remember the news reports from Columbine where there were masses of people weeping, shocked, shaken and scarred by what they had witnessed and lost. I didn’t get any of that from the film, just the raw, naked horror of the event itself. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the film hard to relate to on a personal level.
I found that I didn’t have a strong reaction while watching the film. The impact of it all caught up with me later, as I was reflecting on it. I suppose some of that was probably denial, but either way, it left me severely rattled and impressed.
I don’t know that I’d call it a “must-see” especially since the material may not be something everyone can handle, particularly if they have lost anyone due to this type of violence. But I recommend the film, especially to filmmakers and anyone with a strong constitution. It’s brilliant.