THE KILLING OF JOHN LENNON directed by Andrew Piddington (UK ,2006)
I’m sure there are many who think this movie should never have been made.
It’s a high risk venture to attempt any form of dramatisation of this tragic event. There’s a real risk that any attempts to understand the motives behind the cowardly murder will give slimeball Mark David Chapman added notoriety and the kind of infamy he craved; he was quoted as saying “I was Mr Nobody until I killed the biggest somebody on earth”.
In transforming the story into a movie, British writer and director Andrew Piddington uses a semi documentary style (complete with newsreel clips) and the words of Chapman are lifted verbatim from interviews and statements by the killer.
His dysfunctional family background is therefore stated as a fact rather than one of the causes of his mental instability.
We see him working as a night security guard but since the movie focuses on events immediately preceding the murder there are no references to his earlier life as a born again Christian and YMCA counselor. His Japanese-American wife, Gloria Abe, also remains an anonymous figure, seemingly having little or no impact on his life.
Chapman’s crime is closely linked to his obsession with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. His identification with that novel’s 17-year-old protagonist was so complete that he started to refer to himself as Holden Caulfield. In this way, one of the masterpieces of modern literature is forever tainted.
Holden was not a killer, nor particularly violent. The thrust of the novel is his contempt for the ‘phonies’ of the world.
Chapman was full of irrational rage towards the fact that John Lennon sang “imagine no possessions” yet owned countless properties and a luxury yacht. Lennon never set himself up as a model of virtue so the charges of hypocrisy are as deranged as Chapman’s actions.
Playing the part of a slobbish, self-hating suicidal misfit is by no means a coveted acting role which makes Jonas Ball’s performance all the more praiseworthy. There is no attempt to elicit sympathy for such a ‘nowhere man’ and the feelings towards Chapman remain the same at the end as at the start.
The movie is not prompted by any desire the sensationalize Lennon’s murder but , however worthy its motives, any effort to comprehend the incomprehensible is bound to fail.