Australians own more weapons today than in 1996. That year, the country’s largest mass shooting – the Port Arthur Massacre – led the government to quickly pass landmark gun control legislation, recalling and destroying 650 000 firearms of residents.
This increase in gun ownership in Australia is the catalyst behind director Justin Kurzel’s latest film, “Nitram”. The film, which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, was greeted with controversial when Kurzel first announced that he would follow the Port Arthur massacre. Sometimes excruciating, sometimes gripping, the drama follows the titular serial killer as he grows up in a Tasmanian suburb with his soon-to-be suicidal father and a bossy, cold mother who struggles to accept Nitram as her own son. During years when his parents and peers bullied him for his mental illness, audiences see Nitram becoming increasingly alienated from society. And because audiences know exactly where this story is going to end, whenever Nitram is embarrassed or in a position where he could easily take power, Kurzel gives us an icy break – a space for our expectations and anxieties to take hold. above.
To maintain this anxiety throughout the film, Kurzel goes to great lengths to show just how out of control and volatile the eventual killer is. Fairly quickly, for example, audiences learn to recognize (and fear the consequences) of a distinct style of heavy breathing that Nitram adopts when enraged beyond control. “Nitram” also emphasizes how people in positions of power – his parents, a psychologist, and an adult friend named Helen – failed to keep him in check or notice when he was struggling. Kurzel seems to cite these failures as a major factor in the massacre, just as he cites the gunsmith employee, who, in one particularly frustrating moment, allows Nitram’s growing obsession with guns to go beyond the law.
At the same time, “Nitram” does not necessarily humanize or excuse its subject. Kurzel doesn’t seem interested in making an explicit claim that Nitram’s actions were only the result of a failure of the “system” or those close to him. On the contrary, the film is careful to show the few nurturing moments in Nitram’s life – either in rare and genuinely loving relationships, or the tender moments of his most strained relationships – the paths to a possible redemption that never ends. unfortunately never materialized.
It’s a tough role, and there’s no doubt that the performance of American actor Landry Jones is a highlight for the film. The role, for which Jones received the “Best Actor” award at the festival, sees him confront the insecurities and motives of the serial killer in terrifying ways.
However, the mere existence of “Nitram” raises a series of essential questions: who is this film for? Who benefits, or would be so interested in seeing, such a deep dive into the life of a serial killer – especially one at the heart of such national and generational trauma?
Kurzel claims he created the film to raise awareness of the realities of gun violence as Australia continues to ease restrictions, but it is questionable whether “Nitram” is the best way to achieve that goal. Of course, the public is exposed to dangerous regulatory loopholes by which gun stores have access to lethal weapons, and we see the role various shattered societal systems have played in allowing Nitram to fall into such violent actions. However, the film ends before a long-standing message that ties its existence to a clear call for gun control in Australia.
The film seems inconsistent with its message – on the one hand, it highlights the lack of a strong mental health system to support Nitram. But on the other hand, it seems to correlate Nitram’s mental health and his addiction to antidepressants (rather than his lack of access to adequate mental health care) directly with his violent actions. For a movie meant to be a call to action for gun reform, not only is Kurzel’s argument problematic in areas like mental health, but it’s inconsistent and therefore ineffective in bringing about more change. important.
“Nitram” is without a doubt a solid technical film, especially with the lead performance by Jones. However, her convoluted relationship with sanity and her confused goals of sharing the story of the Port Arthur massacre still leaves her with plenty of room to grow.
– Editor Sofia Andrade can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @bySofiaAndrade.