Directed by: #TravisAndrade
Written by: #TravisAndrade
It is impossible to predict how many more stories about America’s gun culture will have to be written, and how many more shootings will have to occur, before things start to change. At times, it feels like a hopeless endeavour, and this despondency hovers over Travis Andrade’s film, from the scenes of its young protagonist cycling down twilit LA streets alone, to his furtive midnight modifications of a toy pistol. This is an important topic, but Andrade’s script lacks much-needed introspection, and instead searches for someone (or something) to blame.
11-year-old Wesley (Jacob Sandler) is bored. His brother James (Noah Greenly) spends no more time with him than necessary; his mother (Chad Morgan) sleeps on the sofa all day; and cycling around aimlessly and driving to the desert with his brother have lost their appeal. He tells James, “I want to go places,” but the only place to go is home. When James’ friend Blake (Jonathan Irwin) shows up with a 3D-printed gun, Wesley is fascinated and determines to get one of his own.
The film establishes society’s link between masculinity and violence effectively. On the radio, we hear that an athlete has ‘weapons in his arsenal’; in James’ room, a poster asks “Are you man enough?” while he mows down enemies in a video game. Wesley already questions his place in the world, and specifically his future place as a man. This in-between stage is complicated enough, and the subliminal messaging around him only exacerbates things. He wants to eat ice-cream with his big brother. He is ecstatic when a girl at school notices him. He also wants to shoot things. Guns and violence make up his fantasies. He is on the precipice of growing up, and Blake’s insistence on calling him ‘little boy’ is just another reason to grow up faster. The only older boys he knows like to shoot things, so Wesley does too.
This intersection of violence and masculinity is the problem, but Andrade keeps searching. The boys’ single mother is too tired to spend time with them; Blake’s anxiety prevents him pursuing a career in the military; and James plays violent video games. None of these things is bad in isolation. Single mothers do not breed school shooters, children do not shoot other children because they are anxious, and first-person shooters do not turn people into killers. In real life, the US military targets people like Blake and uses first-person shooters as recruitment tools, and the games themselves are insidiously effective propaganda. But Andrade is not interested in this. Instead, he seems to point fingers at everything that might be an issue without being brave enough to make a clear accusation.
The great tragedy of Wesley, and films like it, is that it won’t change anything. More young men and boys will feel purposeless and unappreciated; schoolchildren will continue to live with this sadly rational fear; and America will still have a gun problem. The people most affected by these stories – fictional or otherwise – are not in a position to change the real-world narrative, and the people who are in a position to effect change refuse. The film’s biggest problem lies in Andrade’s refusal to blame anything or anyone beyond the nebulous concept of society itself. As the end credits song asks: “Who is there to blame for this mess?” In Wesley’s universe, this may be a fair question, but in the real world, it is grimly laughable. America has spent centuries glorifying guns and so-called gun culture and now wonders how we got here.