(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem in the style of poet Kay Ryan, whose work is characterized by short lines “with a lot of rhyme and soundplay.”)

Has regrets.
We only pray
That ours will not
Result someday
In death or debts
We cannot pay,
The kind of blot
That none forgets,
The kind that nought
Can wash away.

MPA rating: PG-13 (for heavy subject matter and some language)

It’s hard to believe that Mass wasn’t based on some existing play but rather an original script from actor Fran Kranz, who also made his directorial debut with this small but emotionally potent drama. Set mostly in a small back room of an Episcopal church, the film is essentially one long conversation, or more of a therapy session between two middle-aged couples: Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), whose son was killed a few years before in a school shooting, and Richard (Lee Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), whose son was the shooter before committing suicide.

It takes time, but awkward pleasantries soon evolve into accusations, unanswerable questions, and mutual attempts at empathy. Shouldn’t Richard and Linda have seen what their son was capable of before it happened? Should Jay and Gail blame them for not raising their son differently? The film doesn’t give any definitive answers or go deep into the political attempts at a “solution,” instead seeking to bare the emotions of all and find compassion for those whose lived experience and responses to trauma can never be completely understood. And while neither couple evokes God or religion as part of their anger or recovery, the very setting in a church and its final scene imply that grace and comfort can be found by those who seek it.

I watched Mass with some detachment, admiring the award-worthy performances by all four of the main actors (shame on the Oscars for snubbing all of them) and sympathizing with each to different extents. Yet I found it interesting that my VC had a different reaction, one with more anger toward Richard and Linda for not recognizing their son’s descent into darkness before it was too late. Yet I felt such a scenario was all too realistic, since no mother or father wants to believe the worst in their child. So Kranz’s screenplay certainly manages to plumb the depths of its sensitive topic, which viewers will react to differently, yet hopefully gain an added perspective into how the victims of such tragedies extend to those left behind. Some of the story framing with a neurotic church employee didn’t seem necessary, and I’m not sure what a repeated scene of a field was supposed to represent, but Mass is still a hard-hitting Triple A film (one that’s All About the Acting) whose raw but valuable premise highlights the power of grace over finger-pointing in the universal expression of grief.

Best line: (Richard, to Jay) “You think you can attach one word to something in order to understand it? To make you feel safe? Well, I won’t say it. I don’t believe it. It’s not simple; it’s everything you cannot see.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
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