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Nitram - Glorification or Documentation?

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Do movies like Nitram ...

glorify crime?
0
No votes
document crime?
5
63%
(don't know, etc)
3
38%
 
Total votes: 8

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xianjiro
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Nitram - Glorification or Documentation?

#1

Post by xianjiro »

So, I searched and didn't see an actual discussion of this film outside of the festival programmers thread (and not much discussion there either). In addition to the actual film (Nitram), there is a five-minute short that discusses the coverage Nitram gave to the Port Arthur Massacre.



In light of the points brought up in Lezruk (short linked above), I'm curious what folks think about the issues they raise.

Additionally, did Nitram hit it's mark? In other words, did I elucidate what lead to the Port Arthur Massacre or just give attention to the perpetrator?
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#2

Post by Teproc »

I saw Nitram not knowing what it was about, and wondering what the point of the film was until we got to Nitram buying weapons. At that point, I thought "Wait, didn't Australia have that big massacre which made them adopt stricter gun laws? Oh, I see where this is going." The film mostly struck me as so restrained that it was basically of no particular interest. It seemed more like an agitprop film to argue for more restrictive gun laws and I didn't think the character was glorified in any way, but then I don't particularly have a problem with films that portray killers as human beings, cause you know, they are, in fact, human beings. The notion that "it's humanizing him" is an issue is... remarkably stupid to me. He is a human being, surely this is not up for debate, and one does not need a film for that? Now, the issue of spending much more time being interested in killers than their victims is a very real one, but in a case like this, where the perpetrator did not have a political agenda to promote, I don't have a particular issue with it, though I did not care for the film.
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#3

Post by xianjiro »

Yeah, I too had no idea what it was about when I stuck the disc in the player. And to be honest, I'd forgotten the Port Arthur Massacre under the deluge of similar events here in the US. (Though I remembered it once I read the Wikipedia article.) I still didn't put any pieces together until the ending though clearly, when he started 'collecting' weapons, I had a good guess where things were going, but at that point, I was thinking this could still be a comment on the current US situation, which it really isn't. Well, not directly at least.

Yes, the filmmakers could have chosen to make this a story about the victims, or a victim, or one family. But do any of us wonder why someone is a victim of mass murder? Um, not really. However many of us wonder what leads up to someone actually doing something like this. Sometimes we get answers, say, during a trial or via manifesto, but I don't believe anyone has really decided why that guy shot up the concertgoers in Las Vegas a few years back.

Personally I thought this movie pretty restrained, almost to the point of being dull. It struck me mostly as a character study of a deeply flawed individual, and while we don't exactly get a critique of the systematic failures that allowed such a flawed individual to get the weapons he did, we are able to draw our own conclusions about what we might wish had been done to steer him in a different course.

I think your point about reminding us that he (and folks like him) are still human is important. By simply demonizing these people -- pure evil! -- we fail to even see the possibility to address the situation if it be via gun control or mental health treatment or even better, both. Yes, the text epilogue does rather bang home a point or two, but I didn't feel the film to have been overly preachy.
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#4

Post by blocho »

xianjiro wrote: September 18th, 2022, 9:25 pm Yes, the filmmakers could have chosen to make this a story about the victims, or a victim, or one family. But do any of us wonder why someone is a victim of mass murder? Um, not really. However many of us wonder what leads up to someone actually doing something like this.
I haven't seen the movie in question, so I can't comment on it, but I think you raise an interesting question. A few years ago, there was a Danish miniseries a few years ago called The Investigation that took an interesting approach in its depiction of a real crime. It didn't show the perpetrator even once. Instead, it focused only on the investigators.
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#5

Post by xianjiro »

Thanks blocho, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy. I will track it down.

When it comes to crime, I would say the overwhelming majority of treatment in the popular media focuses either on the perpetrator(s) or the Holmesian detective (team) who tracks them down and brings them to justice. Usually. The one series that sticks with me that tried to provide more of a 360 was Trial & Retribution (1997-2009) which, like The Shield and some other shows also strived to make the detectives much more human. Granted, many detective/crime series of the last thirty plus years have had 'flawed' protagonists. I might find the shows interesting or even entertaining, but the characterizations are rarely fully realized. Much more effort goes into the depiction of the crimes.

And as I've thought more about Nitram, I've thought this is also a weakness there. The main character is incredibly flawed and that doesn't necessarily miss the mark from what little I'm willing to read about the case, but the movie's weakness is how he became what is shown in the movie. For instance, my understanding is in real life the perpetrator had an IQ of +-66 and suffered years, at least a decade, of bullying. I think the bullying is clear in the movie, the extent of mental disability and illness, less so. Additionally, we get a good sense of the parenting environment but only a taste of the medical response to the situation and no response to his developmental disability. Granted, you can't do everything, but I thought less time wallowing in the crapulence afforded by the girlfriend would have allowed a longer time scale.
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#6

Post by blocho »

xianjiro wrote: September 20th, 2022, 3:05 am Thanks blocho, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy. I will track it down.
To be transparent, I didn't enjoy The Investigation. I just thought its purposeful exclusion of the perpetrator was unusual and interesting.
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#7

Post by xianjiro »

blocho wrote: September 20th, 2022, 3:11 am
xianjiro wrote: September 20th, 2022, 3:05 am Thanks blocho, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy. I will track it down.
To be transparent, I didn't enjoy The Investigation. I just thought its purposeful exclusion of the perpetrator was unusual and interesting.
That's cool and not an issue. I often 'enjoy' thinking about what productions do and don't do. After all, it's the rare film or TV series that actually entertains me in the traditional sense. Can't imagine it will be as inane as most reality TV -- by about the same distance as the Voyager missions have now traveled. Simple Life anyone? 🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮
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#8

Post by Fergenaprido »

I'm interested in the film due to the acclaim it's received (both in Australia and abroad), but also hesitant/reluctant to watch/support a film that chooses to focus on the perpetrator of such heinous acts. While I am indeed interested in understanding how the massacre came to take place, and how to prevent it, I don't think a movie about it is the way to go. I can read news articles, wikipedia, or even a book about it and get a much more comprehensive perspective (and either balanced or biased, depending on the source) than any (fiction) film will ever be able to provide. I think my reaction would be different if it were a documentary, but it feels like profiting from the tragedy of others.

I remember when Karla with Laura Prepon was being released in 2006 and there was a lot of pushback in Canada against it being made/released. It felt way too soon in the collective consciousness of the country for Americans to sensationalize the crimes and make a film about it (the main crimes took place between 1990 and 1992, so 14-16 years later, with the trials wrapping up in 1995 and both criminals making the national news regularly in the years since, and she was released from prison in 2005). There was no involvement from the victims' families, and it didn't seem to be a film that anyone in the country was interested in seeing. I don't remember if it even played here. While numerous American TV shows had episodes inspired by the crimes, none were explicitly based on them and could change details to make it more fictional.

So Nitram kind of reminds me of that. It's also curious that they spelled his name backwards, almost as if to distance the film from the actual event while still being 100% about the actual event (I don't know why they did that, haven't seen any explanation anywhere).

I'm not interested in censoring art, but I guess I just don't see the point of films like this beyond "entertainment" at the expense of the victims. That being said, I'm guilty of enjoying older films that were based on true crimes (either because I didn't know they were based on a true story, or because the crime felt so far removed from me), so there's a certain amount of hypocrisy here, I know. At least the Hays Code made the bad guys pay in the end, I guess.
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#9

Post by St. Gloede »

(Thanks for the intriguing topic and exciting to see proper film-focused threads - let's hope we start getting many more of these)

I watched the short and I am disappointed it is clearly trying to be one sided, especially with the really weak case made against the film and films of its kind. The only arguments of some note or validity to me is that films made from the perpetrators' perspective runs the risk of building up their legacy and this argument was made as an absolute case rather than a plausibility - and I don't find that this applies to Nitram at all - as well as the more neutral statement of considering the victims and their families - which I think the film did in a very responsible way.

Furthermore, they do not say why it could be irresponsible to contribute to a killer's legacy, beyond the idea that it is what such perpetrators may want - the implication likely being that media depictions may lead to other mass murderers killing to be remembered. If this is not the case they are making (never stated) I don't see how it could be "irresponsible" - so it would be good if they had said the words and made the case.

Regardless, I don't think any mass murderer doing it out of an urge to be immortalised (which I'm not sure is the case here) would be pleased to see a film such as Nitram made about them. If they are indeed focused on being remembered, they care about how they will be remembered, and with Nitram they are showing a man clearly mentally unstable, a challenge for his parents and a danger to all around him. There is no glory whatsoever in this portrayal.

In terms of sympathy or empathy, I can't say the film warms us up to Nitram, rather it places us in a state of consistently being worried about what he might do - though I have to say that there is nothing irresponsible about making us empathise with the perpetrators of terrible acts - in fact I would argue that this is important. Granted, in the case of Nitram, if we believe the film's thesis, this was a case of mental instability and someone who should never have had access to guns, rather than someone with any kind of ideology or breaking point we may wish to engage with or understand.

Getting back to your poll, I think neither option applies, though "document" is the closest. The reason I say that even "document crime" is not quite accurate is that the film is not quite applicable, is that it seeks to document the ease of acquiring firearms in Australia, rather than the crime committed. It cuts before the actual massacre, and the emotional turmoil and case comes from knowing what happens/being told what happened and seeing that nothing changed. That's the image we are left with.

In the case of other films like Nitram, this is different, as Nitram is fairly unique in specifically placing all its emphasis on legislation. Many films that document criminals certainly leap head first into arguable glorification - mass murderers and serial killers are however usually not given the same positive/cool treatment as real-life gangsters.
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#10

Post by St. Gloede »

In terms of making the film from the perspective of the victims, I understand Xianjiro's argument that "no one wonders how someone becomes a victim", but then I don't think films about the victim needs to pose this question, but rather how we remember the tragedy and who's story we are telling, i.e. remembering the main caused and those who suffered rather than those who perpetrated it.

In a case like Nitram in particular, where the very point of the film is that he got access to guns, and how this could happen, it would be impossible to do this from the perspective of the victims, but telling the story from the victims' perspective (or other perspectives, such as those left behind) can be very effective, and be done without giving the perpetrators their place in history.

Utøya 22. juli is an excellent work, made from the perspective of the victims and in consultation with the victims, made of the Utøya massacre and showing the pure terror they went through. In this case, we also had a mass murderer who specifically wanted to spread his name and ideology, making this approach/consideration even more valid.
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#11

Post by xianjiro »

Thanks for mentioning Utøya 22. juli - something else I should see though as of late I seem to be acquiring faster than watching. Sure hope the rainy seasons starts soon as that should lead to more watching. I'm just not sure I'll ever get caught up.
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#12

Post by cinephage »

St. Gloede wrote: September 20th, 2022, 11:32 am In a case like Nitram in particular, where the very point of the film is that he got access to guns, and how this could happen, it would be impossible to do this from the perspective of the victims, but telling the story from the victims' perspective (or other perspectives, such as those left behind) can be very effective, and be done without giving the perpetrators their place in history.
In my opinion, the film goes further than just mention the lack of gun control. This guy is evidently in need of medical assistance. But he can not find any guidance or help there, and nobody follows up. Left to himself, he develops horrid ideas that the availability of guns make easily achievable. But it is the combination of both a failing mental health system and gun availability that leads to disaster here.

Regarding the relevance of the film, I certainly don't feel Nitram glorifies its main character. The guy has issues, these issues are shown, the guy is obviously dangerous (the car accident makes that obvious), even though no one will take care or follow him medically. Furthermore, there is no glory nor heroism there. The massacre is offscreen, and not shown as anything that would bring pleasure or pride to anyone.

To make a film about the victims would be an altogether different project, and it would certainly be interesting too, but I feel showing the process that leads to disaster is equally a relevant approach to such dramas.
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#13

Post by blocho »

Really interesting comments above from anyone. Again, I haven't seen the movie, but I want to mention two examples from recent American journalism of how perpetrators are treated.

This story in Rolling Stone about the Boston bombers received a ton of criticism, most of it misguided in my estimation. Most of the criticism centered around the choice to put one of the bombers on the cover of the magazine. He was also judged to be too good-looking, and this was claimed to further "glamorize" him. The reason I disagree, beyond the fact that the bomber's physical appearance should be meaningless, is that the story provides public service by explaining how two young people became radicalized and then criminals.

In contrast, an article about a serial rapist in Oklahoma that was also widely derided, to the point that the publisher pulled the story. The key difference for me is that the criminal's background in this case, at least as narrated in the article, does not provide greater understanding of how or why people become criminals.
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