Every so often, there’s a movie that resonates with you on a personal level. It enters your soul, leaving an indelible mark as time goes on. It’s a blessing and a curse, forever shaking you in the ways a story should and making you unable to forget it at the same time.
A quietly devastating look at the aftermath of an all-too-common horror in American life, writer-director Fran Kranzdebut Mass is one of those movies. It’s one of those things that I have, for better and for worse, constantly coming back to. I’ve watched it over and over again, even though it was just released in October. It strikes a chord, resounding powerfully and authentically through my very soul. It brought the pain of gun violence in this country to my first steps by filming the film in the community where I grew up.
The film is set almost entirely in a single church with four characters, two divisions of parents, sitting around a table and discussing a mass shooting that has torn their lives apart. Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) are those who have lost their children. Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) are people whose children have taken the lives of many others. All the cast is excellent, a master class of character actors who dedicate themselves to characters going through unimaginable suffering. The impact of their performance on me was all the more significant because it was all so close to home.
This proximity is both literal and thematic. Literally the building where the lengthy conversation took place is Emmanuel Bishop’s Church in Hailey, Idaho. It’s right down the street from what used to be the only grocery store in the small town, with a population of less than 9,000, and no more than 10 minutes from where I attended high school. The first time I saw the movie, I immediately recognized this place. I had heard that the film was shot in the Wood Valley where I grew up, although I didn’t expect it to be so clearly placed in locations that keep such a vivid place in my memory. . Since moving to Tacoma, a city just outside of Seattle, I’ve gotten used to the cinematic deception of just pretending to edit in one place when it’s actually being shot elsewhere.
That is not the case here. Like Kranz told my hometown newspaper, the location was important because he “wanted to get a real sense of America, especially the landscape, even though most of the film takes place in a room.” The film does that with a quiet flair, providing frequent breaks in the story by cutting across a quiet, deserted field near the mouth of Quigley Canyon, which offers a glimpse of the landscape. football field next to my high school. It was a respite from trauma, both for the character and for the audience, that was all too familiar to me.
Over a decade ago, I too found myself on the field, searching just as the characters do to hide the horror of loss they are facing. There were people I knew and grew up with who didn’t leave the valley like me, their lives ended abruptly by a gun. It just goes on, with all the time I come home with new loss stories. Newspaper-based deaths, a more realistic portrait of small-town America, is simply and barely acknowledged despite how popular it is. The brilliance Mass capture this is better than any other movie that comes before it hurts.
Last week, I went back to my hometown, went to these places to remember. The streets are now immortalized in the movies and in my memory. I went to the church where the movie was filmed. The kind staff let me walk around to see the different locations where the story took place. I took in everything I could, from the small room where much of the movie was set to the upstairs benches, where the music blared downstairs, providing some solace after the darkest moments of the series. film. I met a lovely dog named Rosie, he bears a resemblance to Toto from Wizard of Oz. I saw news clippings of the movie pinned on bulletin boards no more than a few feet from where the movie was shot. It has been a surreal experience made more so as the church prepares for the holidays, filled with joy. It serves as a clear juxtaposition to the film’s tragedy.
While working on this piece, reminders of how dire things are kept coming. While away from where I live in Tacoma, my former colleagues reported there was a shooting at the mall on Black Friday. You may not know about it because it has fewer victims another shoot on the same day three people were shot and three injured at a shopping center in North Carolina. As I was putting the finishing touches on this piece, there was a school shooting in Michigan leaving four dead and seven seriously injured.
Even if 2020 sees mass shootings drop rapidly as a result of nationwide containment efforts, that year is deadliest gun violence in decades. These incidents have become widespread in communities across the United States, a problem endemic to the country that is not seen on a scale of this magnitude anywhere else. Absolute number of guns and ability to use to violence are increasingly pushing us into a world of uncertainty where shootings can only become more common.
It was in a dire world where Mass find itself and where, despite how bleak our reality may look, I have found a more authentic way of grappling with the violence that pervades so much of our daily lives. The deeply painful conversation displayed in Kranz’s film is one not seen in many other works, and it’s understandable why. It is difficult to face the reality of mass death that lies deep within the film. However, to fail to do so, especially when carnage is so pervasive in American life, would be to deceive ourselves about what we are facing. It is a lie we make to ourselves when we do what we can to provide a shield against the horrors of our world. We try to preserve ourselves to find the way forward.
Kranz captures the desire to find a way towards truth and healing. Characters go from being the ones dancing around why they’re there, hiding their trepidation with politeness, to making it all public. Like Kranz told Collider before the movie came out, he himself has to deal with the reality of being a parent now, where his child has grown up in a country where such violence is possible. He is active after the Parkland shooting and trying to find something similar to restorative justice. When I heard Kranz talk about it, it was hard not to be captivated by the prospect of mending the split through such a conversation and figuring out how to get out of it.
The type of air conditioner found in Mass is the catalyst for its degree of uniqueness. Nothing like any movie released this year or any year. It has special meaning to me being in my hometown, although it resonates more deeply because of the way it intrudes on a growing violence that we all must take into account. It is transcendent precisely because this story can not only happen anywhere in America, but it happens everywhere in America. The conversation is a microcosm of the pain that has and will continue to ravage communities across the country. It offers a glimpse of the healing power, although it is still a burden.
Even so, there is a tendency for some to view the ending as too neat. Now that I’ve watched it many times, it’s clear to me that the characters are trying to make such a deal and even switch back to normal polite stereotypes to proceed with it. However, the final scene where Dowd’s Linda returns to the church and delivers a final story complicates this further. She recounts to Jay and Gail something she’s never told anyone before, becoming vulnerable in her honesty about the events leading up to the shooting. It’s honest and painful because it shows there’s still a lot of work to be done on the path to healing. As she brings to life one final scene in my community’s church, Dowd offers the most honest and open-minded about how we’re still broken.
The messy reality with which the movie struggles will always be there, both for the fictional people who live in it and for us to watch it. I will probably still go home and hear about the loss more. That stark reality has become an inevitable tragedy of life in our community, the product of so many factors and failures that we leave little room to see a way out. However, Kranz offers a glimpse of what real healing can look like amidst all the pain. Even in the face of complete and utter destruction of our lives, not all is lost forever. It will never be easy, but Mass showed me that there is a place where peace can be found in the field. As the final frames of the film take us back there for the last time, with the lights of my old high school football stadium illuminated in the distance, Kranz is able to create a sense of calm. expected amidst the chaos.
Plimpton also shares lessons learned from the ‘Parenting’ series and more!
About the author
https://collider.com/mass-movie-fran-kranz-gun-violence-analysis/ Fran Kranz’s Mass brings a pandemic of gun violence to our front door