Nitram

Nitram ★★★½

“yeah, well I guess you don’t know everything” 

I first heard of the Port Arthur massacre just earlier this year. A massacre committed on April 28th 1996 by a lone gunman, which left 35 dead, and 23 injured with ages of the victims ranging from 3 to 72. I regretfully had only heard of this recently when I was relocating to Nova Scotia, Canada where not just shy of a year ago a lone gunman killed 22, and injured 3. Both events of similar tale yet across the world, and a difference of almost 25 years. Both events suffering similar horrific results. As a response to quell our nation the prime minister banned the ownership and sales of 9 types of civilian style assault rifles. A response that felt eerily reminiscent to the Australian governments answer to the tragedy of April 28th 1996. Offering a buy-back program for gun owners that successfully brought in 630’000 guns returned, and ultimately destroyed. Unfortunately, as listed in the end credits of ‘Nitram’ Australia now holds more firearms than it did in 1996. Which brings about the same curiosity as to whether this Canadian firearm ban will offer any real change within our country whose neighbor happens to be the biggest firearm producer and exporter in the world.  After learning of the horrific details that took place on the island state of Tasmania in 1996, I then discovered that Justin Kurzel was planning to make a movie about the lone gunman. A director who has made a career off of notorious Australian stories. This would seem to complete his trilogy of them with ‘Snowtown’‘The true history of the Kelly gang’ and now ‘Nitram’. Admittedly after seeing ‘The true history of the Kelly gang’ I had my reservations of what I had perceived to be the concept of glorifying a mass shooter. As he had seemingly glorified the notorious and arguable folk hero/criminal Ned Kelly. Even reading the grisly detailed Wikipedia on the events of 28th 1996 leaves an impression of the disgusting sequence of events and ways in which innocent people lost their lives. The horrific notion of this gunman playing with his victims was as disturbing as it were to read, as I imagined it would be to have been seen on the big screen. I am grateful that after watching the film, I can confirm I was wrong on my initial feelings towards the film, and its portrayal of its troubled titular character. 

“I can’t keep my eye on you all the time.” 

The beginning of the film that starts with gunfire like fireworks firing off into the sky we see Nitram, played by Caleb Landry-Jones, dirty and unbounded by social normativity and demands. His own mother seems already so tired and worn as she shouts over the fireworks towards him. Later, as his mother sits with a doctor Nitram nervously waltzes around the doctor's office before looming over his mother like a dystopian school teacher. His nihilistic presence is in every frame, and even seems to infect the films mood and look. Super tight close-ups reveal a small sinister undertone or deep lack of understanding of his actions. An adult with the brain capacity of a child and a wealth of apathy for the world. His mother struggling to hold hate for someone who brings her and her husband so much pain, undone by her misunderstanding and unrequited love for her only son. There are many depressing scenes that take place, fights with the family or with strangers, playing like a troubled child who never learned 'no.' The only real support for Nitram coming from his equally depressed father, who similarly struggles to get through to him, yet has a soft spot for gently communicating with him. Though later, Nitrim finds his real support with his newfound friend Helen. A senior and heiress to a local lottery fortune who lives in a large house with only the company of several dogs and cats. As we watch him whittle away his days in a half-depressive and neurotic state through the lush Tasmanian countryside ruining any chance he would ever have at happiness. Even with his latest support, Nitram is never understood, nor is there any redemptive moments where he understands the radical consequences of his actions. He seems to perpetually reject any aid, and progressivly gets more and more violent with those around him. However, I am grateful to say that all violence committed on April 28th 1996 happens off screen. Easily the most disturbing scene being a long-drawn-out sequence in which Nitram purchases the many guns used in the tragedy. A sequence of events that feels even more disturbing after spending so much time right beside Nitram, as they hand over magazine after magazine to the troubled boy who would make them regret their decisions more than they would know. 

“You look like a movie star” 

Often in my reviews I tend to teeter away from actors and find myself more immersed in the compounded effort of everyone involved in making a film. Although this is not entirely different, I would like to highlight the immense talent that is Caleb Landry-Jones in this film. An actor whose memorable on-screen demeanor and cadence from ‘Get Out’ is even more creepily engrossing. It is not very often we get to see actors trying for such challenging roles with such rousing success. Deservingly winning the 2021 best actor at Cannes film fest for his role in this film. Soft delicate facial expressions, and nervous ticks of tucking hair behind the ears with frustrated grimace. I found myself completely entranced by the disturbing transformation by such a talented actor. His posture looks about as uncomfortable as I was watching this. An underrated standout role for 2021, and arguably some of the best acting I have seen in such a recent film. 

 “You’ve never surfed in your life.” 

A particular surfing scene in the film feels so set apart from the rest of it. A wonderful analogy for Nitram as he purchases a board like everyone else. Talks with fellow surfers like the rest of them do. Swims out to them, as they call out for him to break past the rough swells. Yet, he still cannot seem to understand what he is doing wrong. As he is pushed back to shore and the weight of this failure isolate him alone on the beach. Following an agonizing internal frustration with his back to us. The desire and ultimate failure of feeling included. Missing the point entirely, the clear misunderstanding of the talents and demanding work required to be able to surf in the first place. Only seeing it as another desire failed, and the reinforcement of not belonging with anyone. The true discontent he has for the world seems so grimly misguided, you end up slightly empathisizing with someone so confused. 

It is easy to vilify a movie with such disturbing subject matter. It is easy to make a monster out of someone who has done something so monstrous. It is harder to see something so honest in its portrayal of someone who is so incredibly disturbed and realize that no matter how evil they are, or how much you want to distance yourself from them. 
They are human, not some made up villain or monster.

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