I don’t think our nation will ever forget the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, and yet I continued to be astonished that we found a way to live with it. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. When school shootings in high schools and colleges became a regular feature of our country, an elementary school couldn’t be too far behind. And yet its horror remains so incomprehensible that I’ve never been able to shake it. The reporters left Newtown, Connecticut a long time ago, but director Kim A. Snyder stayed and her documentary Newtown forces all of us to briefly feel a fragment of the unending grief and pain this community has endured. Never exploitative and always honest, this is a movie that demands to be seen no matter how badly it hurts.
Rather than use Newtown as a platform to go after the gun lobby, Snyder keeps her focus largely on the families who lost children in the massacre. She’s not interested in a minute-by-minute recounting of the shooter’s motives and movements, and while there are some pointed observations directed towards Congress, it’s through the prism of the stunned parents who can’t believe that politicians are so feckless that they wouldn’t enact the barest legislation to prevent another tragedy. And yet these remarkable human beings don’t crumble. They don’t curl up in the fetal position and lock the world away. They soldier on.
Newtown is a remarkable study of a community wrestling with unfathomable grief born out of unimaginable tragedy. Snyder turns her camera to not only the parents, but also those were at school that day including police officers, EMTs, teachers, and parents whose children survived the shooting. This gives Newtown a larger scope even though the power of these parents grief is already overwhelming and had me in tears for most of the movie.
To boil it down to its most callous terms, it’s not simply a matter of “Kids are dead, and we should be sad.” This wasn’t a tornado that ripped through the school or a school bus that skidded off the road. This wasn’t an act of god; it was an act of man, and these people have to wake up every day realizing that their peaceful world was shattered irreparably. As one teacher notes, “For me, there’s the world before [December 14, 2012], and the world after 12/14.” Many of us are lucky enough to live outside of that world.
Surprisingly, Snyder doesn’t try to transform her movie into anti-gun piece even though people in the film voice anti-gun views. Wisely, she doesn’t want to make her movie “political” (even though there shouldn’t be anything political about trying to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again), and while those politics are inescapable, she wants to keep her camera on the grieving process. She wants to make us understand parents who are terrified of “forgetting” their deceased children. They don’t want to move on, and yet living in this ongoing nightmare means they’ll never be whole again. That’s life in Newtown, and that’s what Newtown forces us all to live with.
Every American owes it to the citizens of Newtown to watch this documentary. When we say things like “Never Forget,” this is what we mean, and while it’s absolutely gut-wrenching, sometimes pain is necessary so that we don’t lose the gravity of this event. I doubt these parents could ever forget these children, but we must never forget what happened in Newtown on December 14, 2012. Newtown is a searing reminder.
[Rating: I’ve decided to forego a rating on this film because I feel like it would be taken as a measure of the victims’ grief rather than Snyder’s artful filmmaking. A grade here serves neither the potential audience member nor the film.]
Click here to catch up on all of our Sundance 2016 coverage thus far, and peruse our other reviews below.
- Captain Fantastic
- The Free World
- The Fundamentals of Caring
- The Hollars
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople
- Love & Friendship
- The Lure
- Manchester by the Sea
- Morris from America
- Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
- Other People
- Sing Street
- Southside with You
- Swiss Army Man
- Under the Gun
- Under the Shadow