Mass makes for uncomfortable viewing. The film joins the ranks of films like Manchester by the Sea, that being films that handle heavy themes and depressing realities of our world. Film and other mediums of art like it have been seen and interpreted as a means of escape. Something to get away from the cruel realities of our society and immerse yourself in another world entirely. However, films can also be a reflection of our world, flaws and all. They can show us our problems and in doing so help us learning something about ourselves. That’s where a film like Mass comes in. Under the direction of Fran Kranz, Mass tells the story of two sets of parents, who sit in a counseling room and work their problems out. Unfortunately, their problems aren’t necessarily with each other but with the relationship between their children.
You see, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda’s (Ann Dowd) son took the life of Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail’s (Martha Plimpton) son and injured their daughter in a school shooting. Tearing their lives apart forever, the tragedies the two sets of parents faced separately come together in a small room in a church. Having never interacted before in person until that point, this is where Mass begins.
The film, practically only focusing on these four people for the entirety of the film, is a big risk. Already dealing with a very heavy subject matter, the confinement could possibly work to the detriment of the film. Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Mass makes use of its limited space to benefit the characters and the interactions with each other. The space confines our characters forcing them to be closer to each other and deal with their issues.
Birney, Dowd, Isaacs and Plimpton give everything they have to these characters. Their performances are extraordinary. In a film that takes place almost entirely in a small room, the entire film hinges on their performances. The way these two families interact with each other and go through numerous stages of grief and acceptance for the circumstances that brought them together is a powerful testament to these actors. Moreover, the way Mass deals with how awkward the situation is for them is interesting as well. The film handles its heavy topics and themes with grace. It isn’t gratuitous and doesn’t aim for shock value. What Mass aims to do is to create a conversation on why and how these tragedies happen. It channels this conversation through these characters in the film.
Mass reaches multiple emotional climaxes that change our characters. Watching these people evolve over the course of the 110 minute runtime right in front of our eyes is something else. While it starts off as awkward, the two sets of parents begin to get brave and ask the hard questions. Moreover, Mass explores the aftermath of a shooting rather than the shooting itself, something that the film medium has explored in other films. Taking the aspect of what happens after is something I never really thought about, let alone from the point of view of the parents of the shooter.
To add to that, Mass explores the politics that the victims have to face, on both sides. You empathize with the parents of the child responsible and Mass gets the viewer to face the uncomfortable truth of just not being able to really realize what with wrong with the individual. It is easy to see the problems with gun control and laws in this country. However, to try and discover what was wrong with the individual is an entirely different story. Mass explores all of these topics with grace and dignity in its short runtime and confined setting. It’s a truly beautiful film that is uncomfortable thanks to tis subject matter.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, Mass is an uncomfortable viewing. It’s uncomfortable because the film puts a spotlight to all the tragedies that occurred in recent years. It shows the aftermath and a beautiful and tragic portrayal of the people that can be affected by these things. However, it is a necessary story that shows how powerful this medium can be for telling stories that reflect our real world problems. It’s not one I see myself revisiting but am glad that I experienced nonetheless. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10