On death, movies and murder

Looking for something to cheer up the bereaved? A trip to the movies might not be the answer, as I found when I went looking for diversion on the first anniversary of my mother’s death on July 22, 2012.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

On such days, despite your best intentions, images and conversations pop into your head about what was and what might have been. Even though I console myself with the knowledge that I did my best at the time, there are always regrets.

So to escape my demons, I sought solace as the movies.

Naturally, the Dark Knight Rises was out. I can’t tolerate any sort of violence in movies, and this was further tarnished by the terrible tragedy in Aurora, Colorado on July 19, where  James Holmes walked into a showing of the film in Aurora, Colorado, and shot 12 innocent people dead, and wounded 58. The pain of my own grief could only be exacerbated by imagining the grief of others.

So we chose Bernie, with Jack Black, Matthew McConaughy and my all time favorite, Shirley MacClaine.

The cinema was small and intimate and Rob and I settled in our seats comforted by the thought that we were in for a brief escape from thoughts of death and funerals.

Until the opening scene.

There was Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, mortician, instructing a class on how to prepare a body for burial.

The Dark Knight was looking good.

“Do you want to leave?” whispered Rob.

“No, it’s okay,” I replied, closing my eyes. “Tell me when this bit’s over.”

How had I not realised that this was about a funeral director?

Set in a small town, (my mother lived in a small town), the parallels were uncanny.

Bernie Tiede meets crusty old bag Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLain) and does everything to please her.

But there is no pleasing her (there was no pleasing my mother either), so he kills her.

I wanted to kill my mother, too, when she was like this.

However, I didn’t – even when she asked me to – and I was both sorry and relieved when she died, as her suffering was intense.

Bernie was sorry, too, that he did actually kill Marjorie, and a bit surprised at himself.

But no more than the townsfolk.

For them, the affable and community-minded Bernie was a local hero.  How could such a nice man do such a terrible thing? It was beyond belief.

Watching the movie it is easy to see how the unlikelihood of such a person committing such an act makes it look excusable.

All along we are rooting for Bernie, not Marjorie, and we are all disappointed when he gets life imprisonment. (Aww, shucks!)

But if we root for Bernie do we also root for James Holmes,  who according to all reports was also an unlikely murderer?

Remembered by a local pastor as “a shy boy driven to succeed at school”, and by his classmates as a PhD student obsessed with the video game “Guitar Hero”, James Holmes appeared perfectly normal, or as normal as anyone else.

We do not yet know James Holmes’s motive, but whatever it was it cannot justify his actions.

Nor can Bernie’s motives justify his actions, likeable as he is.

In the movie, we see him exploited, emotionally and verbally abused, and annoyed by Marjorie’s incessant mastication (yes, I mean mastication)

As he says in his confession, it felt  as if there was no escape. He was in “prison”.

However, there was an escape. He had a house of his own, a car of his  own and a good job.

He could have just left Marjorie and told her to stick her millions, but he lacked the courage to be disliked and to disappoint someone. Being liked was important to Bernie, who showered his friends with gifts, even if it was at Marjorie’s expense.

So he stayed and shot her instead. (Personally, I’d rather be disappointed).

People who have been in such relationships say it is not as easy as this, and I understand that. People like Marjorie mess with your head.

But Bernie’s action was that of someone at the end of his tether. It was not premeditated like that of James Holmes.

It still doesn’t justify it, but it appears less evil and more understandable.

By contrast, James Holmes deliberately set out to shoot innocent people, including children.

No doubt in the coming months, we will find out why. Perhaps, like other mass murderers he felt that he missed out on something in life? But most of us feel like at that at one stage or another, and don’t seek to take out our revenge on others.

Steve Albrecht, a police officer turned “threat-assessment expert” , is quoted in The Sun Daily, (a Malaysian newspaper, I think) as saying that these days experts are moving away from profiling and instead are looking at the behaviours of such people.

Albrecht says that typical questions to ask are: “What were the pre-attack behaviors that this guy exhibited? What were the relationship failures, relationship problems that he had? Was he disconnected from society and disconnected from reality?”

Albrecht goes on to say: “My suspicion is that they’re going to learn a lot of things (about the Aurora gunman), and that people were very concerned about this guy – but didn’t know what to do.”

Let’s hope they work it out these “pre-attack behaviours” before there are any further tragedies.

The tragedy of the Colorado shootings is a sobering reminder that there are worse ways to die than in a nursing home at the ripe of old age of 83, with your loved ones around you.