The year is 1994. Around the world, Quentin Tarantino is blowing up with Pulp Fiction. In Seattle, Kurt Cobain is opting out with a shotgun to the head. And in a Los Angeles suburb, an old Victorian built decades earlier by a deranged taxidermist and basement abortionist is home to a boy who idolizes both of those iconic high school drop-outs. He is sitting on the edge of his bed and listening to his mother cry and the thunder of boots rumbling toward his bedroom. He waits.
The Jock and The Cheerleader are flirting. The Goth is reading. The Geek taps on a computer. They are inside the library of Westfield High when they hear two sets of gunshots – two bangs, then three. Enter The Stoner, completing the Breakfast Club set. His hands are wet with someone else’s blood. “Someone is shooting up the school,” he says. “Just shooting!” He builds a barricade with a chair and book cart. The Jock wants to run. Another pair of gunshots changes his mind.
Fear inspires some to move. Fear inspires others to stillness. Fear inspires all to silence. They hear footsteps approach, deliberate and cool, boots heavy on the hallway tile. The footsteps stop. The door shakes. The barricade holds. But there is another door, unblocked and unlocked. The Librarian springs from his cower to press his body against the threshold. His weight is not enough. The gunman fires three times into door. The Librarian falls. The Goth screams. The little pigs scramble as The Big Bad Wolf walks in. The Ghost of Columbine Future, clad in Trenchcoat Mafia black. He’s just a boy.
We know what will happen next, because we heard the story last week. We know where the bullets will land. We know what they will do. We know these kids will die. Our awful God-like knowledge of the horror that looms makes witnessing it actually happen all the more disturbing. We don’t want to watch. Except we want to watch, too.
The boy is whistling. It’s a whistle we’ve heard before. It always accompanies Tate Langdon’s dreams of the Westfield High Massacre… or his efforts to forget it. The tune – written by Bernard Hermann, who also composed the scores for Psycho and Taxi Driver — is from the 1968 British film that I have not seen called Twisted Nerve, which according to reviews is about a disturbed young man who may or may not be a schizoid or mentally diminished but who is certainly a cunning killer, who has a mother who’s obsessed with him and a sibling with Down’s syndrome, who becomes fixated with a teenage girl who wants to save him. The movie – now considered a cult classic, though perhaps only because Quentin Tarantino swiped the whistle for his two-part vengeancesploitation epic Kill Bill– was criticized for promoting a stupid link between Down’s syndrome and psychoses. The poster language is jazzy-chilling: “Cleaver. Cleaver. Chop. Chop. First the mom and then the pop. Then we’ll get the pretty girl. We’ll get her right between the curl.”
The Goth goes down first. The shotgun blows away half her scalp. We don’t see it, but we don’t have to. We saw the wound last week, when the Dead Breakfast Club roamed free on Halloween. Our own imagination – impacted by one story – fills in the blanks of another, even helps bring it life. Very clever. Still, there is one discrepancy. Last week, The Goth said that her killer asked if she believed in God, and she lied and said yes. We don’t hear this exchange. Did it really happen? Maybe not. Regardless, the question is being asked, right now, in our heads, and it begs many more. If God exists, why does he not act? Why does he not participate and intervene? Why is he content to just watch?
We watch. The Punk goes next. The shotgun blast wrecks his face. The Geek grabs the phone and calls for help. The shotgun destroys his jaw. “Screw this,” The Jock says. He tells The Cheerleader that everything is going to be okay and decides to make a stand. The Jock gets in the boy’s face and declares: “That’s enough!” No, it’s not. The shotgun throws The Jock backward with a round to the forehead.
Finally: The Cheerleader. She’s screaming. She’s calling out to God. We see the book on top of the table she’s trembling under: Harlan Beckley’s Passion For Justice: Retrieving The Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan and Reinhold Niebuhr (1992), an examination of three extremely influential Christian theologians and their relevance to nitty-gritty real-world matters like ethics, social policy, and responding to injustice. Do you think The Cheerleader was thinking about Niebuhr’s notion of “the perfect disinterestedness” of God and his question “How can the God of love also be the God of justice?” while she was cowering and pissing herself? Me, neither.
NEXT: Please don’t be Tate, please don’t be Tate, please don’t be… ah, hell.