Tim Sutton’s Dark Night—screening April 14–16 in the Walker Cinema—shadows the lives of six people prior to a mass shooting in a cinema in order to open space for a critique of the culture from which mass shooting and violence is born. How does American culture encourage violence? Aiming to look beyond an overly simplistic investigation of gun culture, Sutton observes the underlying effects of isolation and desensitization, and the longstanding media and entertainment bend toward violence. In a recent interview, he discussed how the film avoids politics to simply offer an observation, of “people, the suburban landscape, and the intense power of the tools to which we all have access.”
Kelsey Bosch: What about the set of personalities portrayed in Dark Night interests you in regards to mass shooting?
Tim Sutton: The film watches people I felt made psychic sense in the landscape of a vague American suburbia. While they all add their dramatic part to the film’s story, they are archetypes of what makes up much of that environment right now—a Vet, a young immigrant, a troubled teen, skate punks, a social media addict, and an angry and confused young man who clearly should not have access to a gun. It’s a group of people connected only by their sense of disconnection to a greater community, and to a single and somewhat random event.
Bosch: One commonality between Dark Night‘s characters is the suggestion of mental instability. Is the lack of mental healthcare access a bigger problem in the United States than gun control?
Sutton: I’m not an expert on mental health issues—micro or macro—in America. I’m not an expert on gun control. The film’s essential concept is to offer a dark, observational lens on a specific corner of the culture we live in right now as an attempt to evoke in the viewer first a sense of deep dread followed by deep meditation.
Bosch: Is there any danger in typecasting your actors, who largely play a version of themselves, as potential mass shooters?
Sutton: These are real people more or less playing dramatic or nightmarish versions of themselves—the shooter included. They don’t risk typecasting because they’re just people. That’s a real mother/son relationship we’re seeing. That’s a real vet making his way back from war… Their reality feeds a greater fiction which—to me, at least—creates layers and textures of complexity, rather than any cookie cutter or stereotypical results.
Bosch: Is the kind of boredom portrayed particular to the United States? What about our culture perpetuates boredom? Is boredom dangerous?
Sutton: Idle hands… No, to me the film is not about boredom. It’s about isolation, a lack of purpose or connection, and how we as individuals and as a society are filling that void.
Bosch: There isn’t mention of hunting culture in Dark Night. Why did you stray from that sect of gun culture?
Sutton: The people who go into public places and start shooting aren’t usually hunters. They are often disturbed people looking to make their mark on the world. Hunters, or sportsman as they are often called, quite often maintain legal usage and maintenance of their firearms. The film isn’t about that subset or the political platform they might support. The film is purposefully devoid of politics. It simply observes people, the suburban landscape, and the intense power of the tools to which we all have access.
Bosch: Why focus on the lives of the characters (potential victims and shooter) prior to the mass shooting?
Sutton: Most media on this topic is about aftermath—about grief and shock and then investigation and finger-pointing and punditry. Dark Night is about the lives we lead.
Bosch: Suburbs were developed out of a desire for comfort and safety—a refuge from the violence and chaos of the inner city—how has the utopic suburb atrophied?
Sutton: I think there are likely a great many people in the suburbs living incredibly satisfying, engaging, creative lives on a number of levels. I hate to generalize. I do think that America is a culture—be it urban, suburban, or rural—that glorifies and promotes violence, that glorifies and promotes technology, and that glorifies and promotes generic urban and suburban design and development. And with all of this grand promotion comes an infinite amount of serious ramifications. Dark Night illustrates just one.