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Monday, 17 December 2012

Any time an event of a certain magnitude -- good or bad -- occurs in our world, the clock starts ticking to how soon a movie will be made about it.

When it's an event we're proud of, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden, a movie (Zero Dark Thirty) comes out the very next year. (It's worth noting that ZDT was already being made as a different kind of movie about bin Laden, but real-world events changed its thrust.) When it's something that scars our national psyche forever, such as 9/11, it takes five years (the first 9/11 movies hit theaters in 2006).

Either way, the conventional wisdom is that a movie will materialize sooner or later.

But I don't know if we're ever going to see a movie about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Simply put, there's too little value -- morally, cinematically, and certainly not for our entertainment -- to be gained from going over these events again.

I was talking with my wife about the events over the weekend, as often as we could bare to talk about them, and I proclaimed that this may be the most morally reprehensible event of my lifetime.

That's obviously an over-simplification on some level, and it ignores the fact that the shooter, whose name I will never contribute to mentioning in print, was very likely disturbed beyond the ability for us to attribute his actions to any moral value judgments he was capable of making. It's also a claim anyone who had family in the World Trade Center might argue with. And that's only staying within the United States, not considering the countless atrocities that have occurred in other countries.

But since I've already brought 9/11 into this discussion, let's go there for a minute. We can (and have) cursed the names of anyone and everyone involved in the planning of that terrorist attack that shook the very filament of our beings. But no member of Al Qaeda could have done what that man did on Friday. No fundamentalist Muslim could have walked up to a room full of 6- and 7-year-olds and systematically killed them. That could just be because it requires a certain brazen "courage," so to speak, to stare in the face of a child and assassinate him/her without blinking. If you want to look at Al Qaeda in the most negative possible light that the organization most certainly deserves, you could say that they were too cowardly to confront their victims face to face -- that they could only kill them through the intermediary of an airplane. It takes absolute disregard for the sanctity and purity of life in its most innocent forms to do what that shooter did on Friday, even if he was nowhere near in his right mind.

And even though 9/11 killed more than 100 times as many people as were killed in Newtown on Friday, I would say that a good 99 percent of them were adults. Yeah, there may have been a daycare at the World Trade Center -- in fact, I think there was. But that accounted for a very small percentage of those who were killed, and you might say those deaths were "unavoidable" for the agenda the terrorist group was trying to carry out. And that's the big difference here as well -- Al Qaeda had an agenda. Whether we agreed with it or not, Al Qaeda had a specific outcome it was trying to achieve and a specific notion of how to achieve it. Their plan targeted adult citizens of a country they considered to be their enemy. There's an odd kind of morality about that when contrasted with what happened on Friday. 

We make movies about tragic events because we think there's something we can learn from them, because we need to be reminded about the importance of not overlooking warnings signs for these tragic events repeating themselves. And for sure, it will always be good to remind ourselves how the failure to control our access to guns, and our failure to have adequate services to help the mentally ill, both played a role in the atrocity carried about by He Who Shall Not Be Named on Friday.

But dramatizing tragic events requires recreating them on the screen in some way, and that is just not a viable option with something like the Sandy Hook shooting. It would go without saying that you could not show actual children on screen being shot. But even introducing us to 20 little kids, with their precious smiles and their boundless energy, and then killing them off-screen, is too much. Even introducing us to one little kid, and then killing him or her off-screen, is too much for us to handle.

Because it requires us to confront the single most disturbing thing about this incident, the thing that can't escape our imaginations no matter how hard we try: the actual moment of their deaths. The actual moment when a small child -- paralyzed by fear, face blurred with tears, crying hysterically -- succumbed to the bullet that ended his or her life. We can't help but think where the bullet entered the child's body, how it must have looked, how it must have been experienced by the other people who witnessed it and survived. And with the number of children who were killed on Friday, at least some of them must have died in gruesome ways, ways that would prevent open caskets at their funerals. If we imagine them all as little angels who died quickly and cleanly from entry wounds that didn't exceed the size of the bullet, we know we are lying to ourselves.

And if we don't introduce these children as characters in this theoretical movie that will never happen, then they really are just faceless victims -- a fate we do not want to bestow on them, no matter what we do. 

For some reason I have always been haunted by the death of Phil Hartman. And the reason is that I can imagine the scene in my head: Hartman pleading to his crazed wife in the moments before she shot him, trying to convince her in any way possible not to do what she was contemplating doing. And failing. And being shot in the face.

I don't imagine other murders like this, often because I don't know the victims of murders as well as I "knew" Hartman. It's easy not to imagine the particulars of many murders, because we don't know the people involved and don't know what they looked like. This is a blessing. If we spent all our time dwelling on the horrible particulars of murders, the horrors of this world would overwhelm us.

But with 20 elementary school children, we don't have to know them or what they looked like to imagine them dying. And there's no way for our minds to engage in our normal coping mechanisms, which tell us that maybe they were bad people who deserved it, or maybe at least they were ugly. No, we know these were innocent, beautiful little children, too young to have sinned, too young to have started to reflect the ugliness of the world in their own faces.

I am so grateful that I will never see this movie.


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