Since my wife has now switched to working overnights at the hospital, I’ve been tasked with finding ways to entertain myself in the evenings without my TV watching partner.
I’ve been loading up my watch lists on Netflix and Hulu, and I’ve experienced some hits, and some misses. But one film I watched a few nights ago was surprisingly impactful, and I would easily say one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, despite its harrowing subject matter.
The film is called Nitram, and is based on the real-life story of Martin Bryant, the convicted mass shooter who orchestrated one of the most horrific massacres in modern Australian history. The incident occurred in 1996 in the tourist town of Port Arthur on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Bryant’s attack left 35 people dead and another 23 injured.
The film focuses on the life of a young man named Nitram (Martin backward), an emotionally troubled young man who lives with his parents. Nitram is unstable and unpredictable. He is prone to frightening outbursts. He is obsessed with setting off fireworks despite being seriously burned by them as a child.
Nitram’s mother is cold and standoffish and resents having her life turned upside down by her son’s mental illness. His father, who dreams of opening a bed and breakfast and having Nitram help him run it, is much more nurturing and compassionate toward his son.
While trying to make money by cutting lawns, Nitram meets a wealthy, eccentric woman who lives alone in a big house with her herd of dogs. While most people in Nitram’s life turn away from him, Helen takes an interest in the young man, and they quickly become friends. They somehow find common ground in their roles as outcasts.
The film delves heavily into Nitram’s emotional breakdown leading up to the shooting. Along this hell bound spiraling journey, he is rebuffed by women and others he wants to befriend. He suffers through major tragedies and loss. Nitram slowly builds a vision for revenge on a world that has done nothing but kick him to the ground. He withdraws, grows angry, and begins stockpiling weapons, often illegally.
The film is beautifully dark, frightening, and unsettling. The role of Nitram is exquisitely played by American actor Caleb Landry Jones, and his brooding and powerful performance is mesmerizing. Despite Nitram’s horrific actions in the film, Landry can somehow invoke sympathy for his character at the same time he goes down the path toward deplorable violence.
The film is not bloody or gory and I like the fact that director Justin Kurzel took that approach. Instead, the violence is implied yet very strongly felt. The lead up to the massacre is chilling, but has almost an innocent and childlike air to it, especially the moment right before the shooting begins. It’s heartbreaking and powerful.
I believe the film calls out humanity on the corruption of the human spirit by violence and the need for better mental health care for all. It’s a sad reflection of what happened in 1996 and what is still happening far too much now. I watched the film amid the recent tragic shootings in California. The news is painful and sour and tiring.
And I fear it will never stop because not enough of us care for it to.
Nitram is not a cheery film by any means, but one I am certainly glad I discovered.