Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Killing of John Lennon

This was not an easy movie to watch. The Killing of John Lennon is a recreation of the events leading up to Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon. All of the narration we hear from actor Jonas Ball are Chapman's actual words. I went into this movie hoping to gain some insight into what made Chapman tick and why he needlessly killed the greatest musician of our time.

Quentin Tarantino says that everyone is either a Beatles person or an Elvis person. You can like them both but you always like one more than the other. I am for sure a Beatles person. And in the subset of Beatles fandom, I am a Lennon person. My favorite Beatles songs are primarily Lennon compositions like Happiness is a Warm Gun, A Day in the Life, I'm So Tired, and the list could go on. I also find Lennon's working-class rebellion and arrogance appealing. You could always see that resentment behind his eyes even when Brian Epstein had them dressed in grey suits. He chewed his gum and thought "what a bunch of wankers" to himself. So, needless to say, I do not have any good will or sympathy towards Mark Chapman.
The big question is, why make a movie about this little prick? He's someone who deserves no fame and no recognition whatsoever. Well, thankfully, this movie does not attempt to glorify him. It sets out to provide a realistic picture of Chapman's psyche. To that end, it portrays him just as he was and still is, a mentally ill loser who couldn't accomplish anything in life so he chose to make a name for himself by killing someone important.

We get a little of his background in Hawaii. His mom still hangs out at the beach and fucks guys younger than him and he resents her for it. He is married to a timid, mousy Asian girl who seems to put up with his crazy shit because she feels powerless to leave him. He works a shitty job and seems to have no sense of identity or self-worth. Unfortunately, he finds his identity in the pages of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Seeing himself as the real Holden Caufield, he uses the book as a blueprint for his life and a rationale for murdering Lennon. You see, to Chapman, Lennon is a phony. He's a rich man who told the world to "imagine no possessions." That perceived phoniness is his justification for the murder. The line on the cover of the movie is a quote from Chapman. "I was nobody until I killed the biggest somebody on Earth."

John Lennon's fame was based on his talent as a musician and his ideals as an activist. He did real things that mattered to real people. What he contributed to the world was positive. Did his life always match his words? Of course not. But as David Marcus once said "good words, and that's where ideas begin." What did Chapman do? He murdered a man in cold blood in front of his wife. And he thinks that makes him "somebody." Sorry fuckhead. You are still a nobody. Taking from us a man we all loved is not an accomplishment. You sir are the real phony.

The movie is slow and deliberate in how it is paced. You know what is going to happen and are filled with a sense of dread until it does. I really give credit to Jonas Ball for his performance. I think most actors try to bring a sense of pathos to the characters they play. Thankfully, Ball does not do that. He works hard to bring the real Chapman to life just as he was at that time. He shows us a creepy, wormy, little prick that deserves our contempt but is not played as a villain. It's multidimensional and realistic.

So, was it successful in showing me who Chapman was in 1980? Definitely. It really doesn't offer a point of view or psychological insight into the man. It just shows the events in a docudrama style. It's up to you to wrestle with what was wrong with him and why he did what he did. There are no easy answers and it is a credit to the movie that it doesn't try to give us one with a bow on top like some shitty episode of Law and Order.

This isn't a movie for everybody. But, if you are intrigued by what goes on in the mind of a man like Mark David Chapman, give it a watch.

No comments: