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Mass: Embracing the Depths of Grief

In his directorial debut, Mass, Fran Kranz encourages a fierce embrace of the uncomfortable. 

The movie follows two sets of parents who attempt to work through the grief of losing their sons to a school shooting. Seeking closure, Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton), whose son was a victim of a school shooting, agree to sit down with Linda (Ann Dowd) and Richard (Reed Birney), the parents of the shooter. Through the course of the film, the four parents struggle to understand each other in an endeavor to find a way to process their experiences. 

Addressing his inspiration to share this story, Kranz said that he was driving and listening to a parents on the news on the day of the Parkland shooting and was overwhelmed thinking about how that parent was going to move forward and heal and asked himself what he would do if he was in their position.

“I started researching these events and I came across meetings like this and I realized that’s what these meetings are, that’s what the parents who have these meetings are trying to do, they’re trying to move forward, they’re trying to heal and so that was the story I wanted to dramatize: The very thing I was so troubled by and fascinated by,” said Kranz. 

The action of the film centers around their conversation and unfolds in a single room in a church basement, an intentional and impactful directorial decision that creates a sense of extreme intimacy between the viewer and the four people in the room.

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Speaking to this decision, Kranz said, “ I just thought it was so extraordinary, I thought to do anything other than present the conversation in real time from A to B in a single location would be to undermine that heroic sort of behavior so I tried to present it that way and I wanted the room to be simple, I wanted everything about it to be bare and plain so that the focus was on the four of them and the performance and the action of the story of these people trying to heal.” 

Kranz was also largely inspired by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and modeled the meeting of the four parents after an amnesty hearing. “The family of the victim meeting the family of the perpetrator in an effort to heal, in an effort to find some shared humanity to feel that you are hearing the truth and remorse from people,” said Kranz. 

According to Ann Dowd who plays Linda, this unconventional decision to center the action in one room is integral to the story. “You’re in the room. That’s where the pressure, the anxiety, the hopes, the dreams, the grief, it’s all staying in that room. In essence there was no escape except giving up. And to be able to shoot it like that, and essentially in sequence, with everything around the table, it’s very rare and extremely wonderful,” said Dowd. 

She explained that the level of intimacy created by Kranz and the environment of the film was an entirely different experience. “I felt that it was not a movie we shot. I felt like something happened to us, the four of us, in an entirely private, intimate couple of weeks that was in the middle of nowhere that no one will ever see and no one will ever experience but us,” said Dowd.

For Jason Isaacs (Jay), though he has been in many action-packed big budget productions, Mass is perhaps one of the most important.

“This felt like one of the biggest films I’ve ever made,” said Isaacs. “It felt big because the landscape of the human heart and mind was drawn larger and we climbed up higher mountains and fell down lower troughs than most films where the world is ending and that’s partly to do with the fact that we were in this pressure cooker. It was beautifully calibrated by Fran, like a symphony.” 

According to Isaacs, as an actor, he is very familiar with telling other people’s stories. However, these stories are not reflective of the world as we know it.

For him, Mass is a rare exception.

Speaking of the movie he said, “Every once in a blue moon, something magical comes along, something beautiful that is relevant of the human condition and worthy of storytelling really and this is one of those few things that comes along if you’re lucky, once a decade. It has value.”

Riddhi Setty

American '22

President of Her Campus American. Undergraduate student at American University studying Journalism and Business and Entertainment. Preferred pronouns: she/her/hers.
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