Despite the tragic proliferation of U.S. school shootings throughout the 21st century, the Columbine High School Massacre of April 20, 1999, continues to resonate in America’s consciousness (and conscience) with almost apocalyptic power.
Possibly timed to coincide with the birthday of Adolph Hitler, Columbine High seniors Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, marched into their school armed with automatic handguns, sawed-off shotguns, and 99 explosive devices.
At 11:19 A.M., Harris and Klebold sprayed death all over Columbine High School. They walked the halls shooting at everyone in their path and tossing pipe bombs.
Forty-nine excruciating minutes later, the shooters committed suicide. They had killed 12 students and one teacher, and severely injured another 21 victims.
Society reeled over the tragedy. Hard looks got taken at Harris and Klebold’s extracurricular interests, particularly in regard to violent video games, heavy metal music, and goth culture.
More productively, bullying became a hot topic. The public recognized how Klebold and Harris could have been motivated, at least in part, by being picked on and humiliated by other kids.
As school shootings continue to plague modern life, here are five pop-culture meditations on that morning’s madness that pack a particular wallop.
1. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002)
Director: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore, Marilyn Manson, Charlton Heston
Bowling for Columbine scored a Best Documentary Academy Award for its maker, left-wing provocateur Michael Moore.
The movie argues that a culture of fear perpetrated by the United States government and mass media (to the benefit of gun companies) prompts Americans to arm themselves. Moore further asserts that the Columbine massacre arose from that fear.
The movie makes its points using stock footage, ironic commentary, and carefully edited interviews, including hot-button encounters with shock-rocker Marilyn Manson (who bemoans getting “blamed” for school shootings) and Hollywood actor turned NRA President Charlton Heston (who was suffering from Alzheimer’s during filming, a fact Moore does not acknowledge onscreen).
Bowling drew loud praise by those who agree with Moore’s gun-control politics and equally loud condemnation from by those who don’t. Its creator remains a massively divisive figure, to say the least. [The Guardian]
2. ELEPHANT (2003)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson
Acclaimed filmmaker Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, Good Will Hunting) unmistakably evokes the Columbine High massacre in Elephant, his artful, unnerving, “you-are-there” meditation on a school shooting conducted by two bullied and beleaguered outsiders.
The actors improvised much of the dialogue which, along with Van Sant’s minimalist approach to the incendiary material, hammers home an unshakeable sense of realism. [Roger Ebert]
International journalist Dave Cullen spent an entire decade researching, writing, and otherwise readying Columbine, a true-crime book of epic proportions that continues to serve as the definitive literary account of the tragedy.
Cullen dispels numerous myths and draws some genuinely unexpected conclusions in Columbine, including that the shooters no more took up arms over being bullied than they did because they wore black and listened to heavy metal.
Instead, Cullen argues that Eric Harris was a clinical psychopath driven to sadism by his own mental illness and that Dylan Klebold suffered from extreme depression, which made him susceptible to his friend’s ghastly scheme.
Columbine appeared on numerous “Best of 2009” book lists, including The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. In addition, The American School Board Association named Columbine the Best Education Book of 2009. [Huffington Post]
4. I’M NOT ASHAMED (2016)
Director: Brian Baugh
Cast: Masey McLain, Cameron McKendry, Ben Davies
Made expressly for the Christian movie market, I’m Not Ashamed stars Masey McLain as Rachel Joy Scott, a Columbine High School student who was fatally shot, point-blank, by Eric Harris.
Just prior to killing her, Harris reportedly asked Scott if she believed in God. When she answered she did, he put his gun barrel against her head and pulled the trigger.
Despite I’m Not Afraid’s overtly church-oriented take on the tragedy, the movie contains some surprising subtleties, such as depicting that, in high school, even “good” kids occasionally sneak out to smoke cigarettes and drink beer. The massacre scenes are also effectively moving. [Hollywood Reporter]Related: Books of Blood — When Assaults, Shootings, And Murder Come To The Library
5. A MOTHER’S RECKONING: LIVING IN THE AFTERMATH OF TRAGEDY by Sue Klebold
Emerging from unimaginable guilt and grief, A Mother’s Reckoning is a memoir by Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of the Columbine High School shooters. Sue took 17 years to write this book; Dylan was 17 when he killed and died.
A Mother’s Reckoning details Sue’s agony on the day of the massacre while expressing even more extreme sympathy for Dylan’s victims. She openly explores her family’s life up to and ever since the defining tragedy, and she details how she has subsequently become an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. Profits from the book are being donated to related charities. [New York Times]
Main photo: Columbine High School security cameras [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]