Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, a newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, retrospectives, recommendations, and more. You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article to receive future editions in your inbox.
Like so many people in recent days, my thoughts have turned to Uvalde, Texas, the latest American town to be forever changed by gun violence. Since my last column, we’ve seen multiple mass shooting across the U.S., most prominent among these being the one that occurred in Uvalde, at an elementary school, plus another that took place at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
As we try to make sense of these senseless events, familiar questions emerge. For example, “What can we do?” More pertinent perhaps is: “What more will it take for something to be done?!” “When will we say, ‘Enough.'”
Recognizing the prospects for political action are exceedingly slim, a sad, cold calculation crossed my mind last week: On our current course, meaningful change may not come until so many Americans have been personally affected by gun violence that it overwhelms the sociopolitical math equations that sustain our established balance of power — overcoming the thresholds of any filibuster and the margins of typical electoral preference or granting the “average American” the same level of fervor and direct, personal stake in this issue as the gun lobby.
It’s a morbid, frankly ridiculous notion. Such an outcome would require countless more laps through this vicious cycle we find ourselves in. It would mean so many more Newtowns, Parklands, and Uvaldes, a level of suffering and heartbreak no one should be able to stomach.
But that kind of desperation or hopelessness is understandable in moments like these. My mind then surfaced a film I watched a couple months ago, a 2021 independent release that was generally overlooked. The film, titled “Mass,” offers another option, another possible theory of change.
“Anywhere in America”
“Mass” focuses on two sets of parents who lost their children in a school shooting. The story takes place some years later, as the families meet in an attempt to reconcile what happened and everything they’ve gone through.
The vast majority of the film takes place around a table in the basement of a church, following one lengthy, uninterrupted conversation between these four characters.
The story is fictional but clearly inspired by the times we are living in. Writer and director Fran Kranz has cited his reaction to the Parkland shooting and the birth of his own daughter as inspirations for making the film.
The movie was filmed in an Episcopal church in the small town of Hailey, Idaho. According to Kranz, the script called for the film to take place “anywhere in America,” and in an interview with the “Idaho Mountain Express,” he said:
“I had always envisioned the film couldn’t take place in Los Angeles or New York. We talked in pre-production that it should look like 40 out of 50 states.”
The film is successful in that regard. It does a particularly good job capturing the details of a small-town church, making the space feel grounded and real. Meanwhile, it relies on bucolic scenery to provide moments of reflection and repose at the bookends of the film.
The “Idaho Mountain Express” calls it a “tense and uncompromising” experience, and they are not wrong about that. This is not an easy thing to watch, and rightfully so. But it goes back to the theory and the hope for change.
Empathy and compassion are necessary to connect us together, whenever common shared experiences won’t do the job. And stories can be powerful vehicles for cultivating those connections, especially when told through the filmmaking lens.
I can only speculate here, but I’d wager, when you toil to make a film about parents grieving the worst kind of loss imaginable, when you ask viewers to step into those shoes for a couple hours, you do so out of a hope that it will leave an impact, that it will change how we see our circumstances and add to the balance of our collective humanity.
It’s no different than if you were to make a stage musical about a deadly mine disaster, for example. You do it because it’s an important story that needs to be told, sure, but also in the hope that you can honor those lost, hold accountable those responsible, and play some small role in preventing such a thing from ever happening again.
Two things I’ve heard in recent days have stuck with me. “We can’t become numb to this,” and “We can’t just move on and forget until the next tragedy hits.”
Those are easy sentiments to get behind, but putting them into practice and holding true to them is a far trickier matter. From my perspective, spending some time with “Mass” might be one small way to do that. I recommend you give it a look, if not now, before too long.
“Mass” is currently streaming on Hulu and is also available to buy or rent on disc and via digital media platforms.
This article first appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder focused on the best, and worst, in rural media, entertainment, and culture. Every other Thursday, it features reviews, recommendations, retrospectives, and more. Join the mailing list today to have future editions delivered straight to your inbox.