Newtown (2016)

“It’s very different life now.”

A hidden portion of my INFJ wardrobe irrationally chooses to wear raw emotions for only the most deserving of occasions. Which explains why I was so surprised to find myself openly weeping less than 10 minutes into the precisely painted and robustly delicate Newtown, frustrated and trying to cradle my head in an upright position, tears streaking down my cheeks like acid raindrops racing along the glass and towards the sill. This is a movie about the purity of life itself, its youthful innocence, the effortless effect of evil, and the palpable weight of grief. All of these shadows shape Newtown into an essential and irrefutably human journey that should be mandatory viewing for both sides of the political aisle.

Above is a personal photo lent from the Barden family. This is the essence of their son Daniel, a blanket of warmth and an angel with unharnessed energy. He knew the bus driver well and each morning his little legs raced the revving engine with the abundant confidence of a child born on fire. It is one of the most ebullient imagines I’ve seen from a picture in 2016, encapsulating the infinite jest of childhood before ushering in the foreboding and immeasurable amount of hate to come. Newtown literally hurts your heart as you endure and relive its overwhelming tragedy, striking us with such impactful scenes that we’re left with a crater in the soul, all before piping the empty pit full of communal love.

From the very get go, Newtown turns all of its burners on high and sears its images into our memory banks, practically branding us with a festering wound destined to never heal. That is the life of these parents, teachers, siblings, friends, officers, custodians. Grant them three wishes and every single one would go towards altering the past. As one teacher says, her personhood is broken into two clashing chapters that occurred before and after 12/14/12 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 20 children irreconcilably stolen too soon. 6 adult staffers dead. Newtown’s biggest strength amidst all of this heartache is that, unlike much of American culture, it approaches softness and kindness with the strength both attributes so often require, refusing to confuse such attributes with weakness or paltry vulnerability. To blindly and open-heartedly love another person takes courage; hate only requires thoughtless and selfish instinct.

What I found so beautiful and astonishingly decent about Newtown is that it doesn’t just fill outsiders with the subjects’ consuming and unbearable load of remorse. By refusing to name the devil living in these details and through practiced restraint, Kim A. Snyder’s unbearably sad and cathartically hopeful film ends on a shot of sheer perfection. The aforementioned and late Daniel’s father Mark is miles up in the sky, launching from a plane’s door for a free fall. As someone who has skydived, I can pinpoint with absolute certainty the meaning behind this ending. Falling from 20,000+ feet, the man strapped to my back yelled into my ear, “close your eyes!” I did, and for those few seconds – which felt more like a lifetime – I was gifted with the most tranquil sense of inner peace. You simply forget the good and the bad and exist in the moment with great abandon. For Mark Barden, I’m sure this was a drastic means of release. But for the audience, we bear witness to the spirit of his son Daniel, still chasing the bus, living on and through and within his father. Newtown and its subject matter might be forever remembered in the history books for its grim reaper veil of despair, which is why this picture is here to remind us that love always trumps hate.

“We’re not going to let the darkness overwhelm us, but the darkness is there.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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