At 13, he started a gaming profile to play fantastic games. Hearing her interact with other players on the headset made Linda happy. College was tough on him. The family had moved. It was a new school. He was depressed. He was in therapy and out because he hated it. All he wanted was to feel normal, but therapy made him feel like he was “not human.”
Linda, played by Ann Dowd in the new movie Mass, shares what she remembers about her son because Gail, played by Martha Plimpton, asked her to. “Why do I want to know about your son?” Said Gail. “Because he killed mine. “
Written and directed by Fran Kranz, Mass is a volcanic and unwavering representation of four parents navigating the unthinkable. Years before, Linda and Richard’s son (Reed Birney) had opened fire on his high school classmates, before going to the library and killing himself. Gail and Jay’s son (Jason Isaacs) was one of the victims.
Neither couple is sure what they are looking for when attending this reunion. Forgiveness? Acceptance? An explanation? Their lives are forever linked. Maybe the conversation can do something for their grief, the pain that has engulfed their lives in so many different ways.
“I knew I would, because how can you refuse something so extraordinary?” Dowd tells The Daily Beast. But she was worried. “The other thought was, can I live in this level of grief to the point of honoring this character? We are talking about something that is so deeply painful and that so many parents have gone through. There is a real sense of responsibility to get to the bottom of this. “
Kranz was inspired to write Mass, in part after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and staff were killed. He was listening to a radio interview with one of the relatives of the victims and became so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to park his car and pull himself together.
While researching more about the school shootings and their aftermath, he uncovered stories of parents of school shooters and parents of victims having meetings like the one he would end up dramatizing. Mass. With titanic performances by Dowd and Plimpton, the fictional version of such a reunion becomes a rich backdrop to explore what it means to be a mother, especially after such a loss, and how to persevere in the face of grief on a journey to recovery. healing.
Filming took place over two weeks at an Episcopal Church just outside Sun Valley, Idaho. Before starting, Dowd read A mother’s judgment: living in the aftermath of a tragedy, the 2016 memoir of Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, who was one of the two shooters in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The book finds Klebold remembering what his son looked like as a teenager . She wonders if there were any signs she had missed and reflects on what it is like for a mother to mourn the loss of a child who had committed such a hideous and violent act.
“Sue Klebold experienced something unimaginable in her level of tragedy,” said Dowd. “This is what Linda is going through. How could I put this …? I needed a friend. I needed to make internal contact with a woman who experienced it and who survived it.
In contrast, Plimpton found herself avoiding these accounts. “I didn’t want to read like this,” she told The Daily Beast. “I just didn’t think there was a way for me to approach or evoke the world of Gail that would be helped by the experience of a real person. And I think I was worried it would add a level of detachment or estrangement that I didn’t want. “
What does someone like Gail want from a meeting like this, sitting face to face with the woman who raised her son’s killer? It’s almost too complicated to say. There are forces beyond his control that bring him there. Her marriage is falling apart. Her therapist wants her to go, especially to make a statement in Linda’s face that the therapist believes could set her free.
“She is eaten alive by anger and recrimination,” said Plimpton. “I think she’s fighting with herself, because she can’t conceive of saying the words she’s supposed to say. Not in a million years. And I don’t think she can imagine that Linda will have something to say that will fix this, answer her questions. But she can’t help but ask.
The emotions of the encounter wave like readings on the Richter scale. There is politeness and jokes. Everyone smiles sweetly and says thank you for meeting. There is gossip and shame as an apology is made for what the lawyers have said publicly. Gail starts to be slightly reluctant and dismissive, but warms up when she begins to share stories about her son.
The gruesome details of the massacre are told. The notions of blame and guilt are explored. What it means to be a parent, to be a mother, is discussed with passion. Everyone is crying. Everyone is screaming. Everyone changes. As you watch, you wonder if, perhaps, there is a bond that is forged, from parent to parent, over this morbid and involuntary bond that they share.
“I think she’s just exhausted,” Plimpton says of Gail. “He’s reaching critical mass. One of the things that I think human beings struggle with with forgiveness is that they think that if you do this or that then you can forgive. Then you change the way you think, and then you can forget. Of course it’s not like that. Forgiveness is just the start, because you have to keep doing it. It is behavior. It’s not an action, and you keep coming and going. It is a process. It opens the door to a world that has not been seen. It’s terrifying. This is what we fear about it.
Both actresses have understandable difficulties providing clear answers about what is going on in this room. It is overwhelming. In some ways, the whole point of the encounter and this movie is whether clarity is even possible when things are so overwhelming, so seemingly impossible.
“We’ve all been through some grief,” says Dowd. “It’s exponential. But I remember times in my life when there was deep sorrow – I would say when my father died – the world changes. You are in your own world. Tragedy is everywhere you look, of course. But I remembered in my own experience that people go about their business. They don’t realize the world has changed for you.
Linda grapples with her own place in this extreme tragedy. He undocks her. It means reconciling her actions with the person she believed she had raised, whom she thought she knew. It means accepting the fact that she had to bury her son in secret. Instead of real grief, there was shame.
Because of this, she wonders if she will ever be able to restore the memory of who he was, and if that is even possible in a world where he has caused so much pain. But what about to son? In one of the movie’s most powerful moments, she says, “I know the world might have been a better place without him. I can’t say I would have been.
For Dowd, the key to understanding this feeling was when Linda said afterwards, “Does this make sense? Because, for her, it is. “Our children live in our souls,” she says. “They are part of us. “
Dowd’s oldest son is on the spectrum. “He taught me what listening was. And patience. This is the gift, among many other things, that this beautiful boy gave me. Then there is his daughter. “She taught me what joy and the absence of fear look like. Her youngest, who is adopted and “left a very difficult childhood”, continues to teach her on a daily basis. “He taught me what trauma is, what it looks like and what it looks like. And that there is a way forward. These are deep gifts.
Linda resides in the truth. She is able to see that if her son had never been born, these children would be alive. The lives of these families would not have been ruined. There wouldn’t be so much desperation.
“But Linda wouldn’t have been better if he hadn’t been here in this world with her,” says Dowd. “I don’t know how that would be possible for a mother. Before I had kids, I thought I knew what love was. I was brought up in a loving home. I have a very loving husband. A child teaches you something else. It gives you something else. I don’t even remember my life before my kids. It changes everything.
Then she raises the big question that resonates through Mass– and the one Plimpton also frequently poses when talking about how these characters feel. She pauses and asks, “Does this make sense?” “