(BFI London Film Festival, Nitram, Tuesday 12 October 2021 18:00, BFI Southbank, NFT1)
Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones).lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban 'Australia' in 'The Mid 1990s'. He lives a life of isolation and frustration, never being able to fit in. That's until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that relationship meets a tragic end and Nitram's loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent that leads to disaster.
There's a spirit and resilience unlike any other. In winter the storms from 'The Antarctic' batter the coasts and in a strange way. 'Tasmania' comes alive with energy, a.curiosity, a need to explore, to understand this place and it’s past. The forensic unpeeling of the character in the weeks leading up to the shooting is as vivid as it's elusive that it reached beyond the monster echoes and confronts us with someone who we feel we've known, walked past, ignored, would see but then forget. The portrait he invents, the family he creates, the street they live on all feel conversant and familiar. This step-bystep unpeeling of a character, their dismantling and isolation, dared us to consider how someone could evolve into a leviathan. His past has ghosts, terrible unresolved tragedies, which haunt and have settled like a constant fog over it's exquisite beauty. This reflection is complex and cautious; there are things best not talked about, a darkness to evade. We've to understand why these young men search for answers in such extreme violence. Is there a cultural void, which starves these human beings of a tribe, an absence of belonging? When there's no church, no sense of origin, no connection to land and country, what becomes their compass, what corrupts them towards this apathetic and senseless need to destroy life?
"Nitram" is a narrative portrait about the troubled person behind 'Australia’s' worst mass-shooting, to shed a light on how these incidents could have come to pass and in turn, perhaps understand what we might do to prevent them. In providing an artistic exploration of the issues and events that led to the person committing the shooting, the film aims to bring to the fore a range of themes that challenge modern-day society including; isolation, family support interventions, mental health and gun control. This is a difficult film for a lot of people, none more so than the survivors, the victims families and friends. In addition, there's a school of thought that believes that in naming perpetrators of such acts, one may be offering up the precise notoriety they're seeking in undertaking their violence. It's after all simply the actual gunman’s name reversed. But it's much more than this. It's established as a term of derision in the film. It's the label given to an outsider, to someone who didn’t fit, who isn't’t quite right. It's a name he didn’t want or like; the polar opposite of the notoriety he would seek. Beyond this, Nitram talks to the point of view in this film, without ever seeking to give the actual perpetrator any satisfaction whatsoever. There are no answers but the legacy of 'Port Arthur' is our albatross around our necks, it's part of our history and it warns the future of it's perils.
2018. In Los Angeles two broadcasters start arguing about gun laws. There have been two senseless mass shootings in 'America' within the space of ten days and a former-athlete is defending his right to bear arms and hunt with his semi-automatic rifle. There are certain catastrophic events that stay with you, events where you will forever recall when and where you heard the news. For 'Australia' it's the news of the 'The Port Arthur Massacre' on Apr 28, 1996. Thirty-five people were killed and 23 wounded at the hands of a lone gunman. At the time, it was history’s worst ever mass shooting. Viewing the harrowing images on 'TV' screen on that fateful day we keep asking ourself the same question. A quarter of a century later, that very question remains; Who would do such a thing? We learn that some gun laws in 'Australia' had been relaxed since the introduction of 'The National Firearms Agreement' in 1996 and that many of it's suggestions were never even implemented. There are more weapons in 'Australia' now than in 1996. Whenever such a heinous act occurs the perpetrators are quickly labelled evil and crazy, for this makes the news easier to digest. But we believe this to be dangerous, as we as a society stand to never learn anything from the tragedy. Instead, we choose to look closer. Not in any attempt to sympathise with the killer but rather to try and better understand what leads an individual to carry out such a crime. We understand a community’s wish to forget the man’s name, but to forget the event risks it repeating itself and we would much prefer our reminder to be a scripted narrative film than another news report.
While we realise it's hard for any nation to examine the ghosts of it's past, we also believe it to be necessary. It's what art does so very well. An attempt to try and bring sense to the senseless. Yes, we should have films that celebrate Australia, it's sporting triumphs, it's natural beauty, it's good-natured humour. But we should not shy away from the uncomfortable if there's some good that can come from it and we're not merely referring to our history of colonisation but our contemporary history as well. Currently we feel western society is in a war with it's self, where senseless random acts of violence are being carried out daily. Our intention is not to give exposure to the perpetrator but the issue. Art gives us the tools to confront the darkest of events. As a form of artistic expression, the film has the ability and, we believe, a responsibility to facilitate thought-provoking, productive and responsible dialogue and, in some cases, action around the issues that matter to us as a nation and world, so that we always strive to protect and preserve the things we cherish as a civil society. At it's core, "Nitram" exists for this purpose.