Friday, May 25, 2012

Bully (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets
by Ian Brockway


I knew that  this film would be no picnic. This is not a John Waters film, filled with the pointed transgressive humor that I so enjoy, this is no "Female Trouble" or "Hairspray" with Mr. Pinky saying "Fatty, Fatty two-by four! Can't fit in the dressing room door!" The film is called "Bully" It is a hard, gritty documentary about school bullying and the damages of  real abuse and it doesn't mince images for our public schools. Every parent, every teacher and every kid should see it. Period.

The documentary directed by Lee Hirsch, focuses on five kids who are picked on and severely, insidiously abused in middle school through no fault of their own, but just because they "don't fit in" somehow.

Immediately an eerie feeling hits you delivered by a hand held camera as the foreground blurs and then comes into focus: a yellow orange school bus slowly pulls in. This one shot, reminiscent to me of "The Blair Witch Project" is as scary as anything dreamed up by John Carpenter and sadly, all the more horrifying for it being a very real, albeit unnecessary part of many public school environments.

One of the most frightening scenes for me occurs just during the credits when we see a young girl in close up, just nonchalantly chewing gum, impassive and staring. These moments compose a dark echo of Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests" and they introduce happenings far less blase' and increasingly sinister. Minutes later, the first episodes of violence happen.

The suicide of Tyler Long, a student who was bullied is heart breaking as is the death of Ty Smalley. I cannot fathom why these kids were bullied at all. And that is the point. Kids are randomly targeted in a cycle that seems as pernicious as a bacterial infection or a virus.

All the kids featured  are startling and poignant , caught in violent and humiliating spirals not of their design. There is Alex, who is gangly and uncoordinated but altogether bright. He has endured so much painful abuse by students (including a kid wedging his face under a door and sitting on it) that he smiles and tries to shrug it off with a self-deprecating smile. During the day, Alex moves through the waves of pain and unbearable annoyance with a spacey neutrality. Only later at night, do we feel his nervousness---his lips shut tight, his eyes wired inside his head.

There is Kelby. At 16, she came out to her family as openly gay. A minivan came by as she was walking along the road and hit her without remorse. Kelby had dreams of joining a basketball team, but her family is ostracized from the neighborhood and they have decided to move out. Last but not least, there is Ja'meya. As she was unrelentingly bullied and teased, Ja'meya stole a handgun from her mother's closet and started waving it around on the bus. She was charged with multiple upon multiple counts of assault and is now in a juvenile detention facility.

The kids are anxiety provoking enough, but the school administrators are downright inept and underhanded. "These busses are safe." and "Boys will be boys", is one line that brought a moviegoer next to me to speak aloud.

The Cardinal Sin of talking aside, this film should bring you out of your seat, in tears if not shouts.

It is not possible to stay silent.

The current cycle of bullying is no natural event. And it is offensive to think it a rite of passage as a principal in the film does.  Logic fails me when I think of teenage hormones, peer pressure or dominance. In watching the film, it is hard not to think of something endemic, viral, or even demonic in scope.

Whatever the primary cause of this intensification , a culture of intolerance be it social or religious is the key to solving this scourge, and setting both our schools and ultimately, ourselves free.

It is wonderful that The Tropic is giving "Bully"  its first oxygen that it needs to breathe and multiply with its healing imagery, and I hope it goes to theaters and schools throughout The Keys, wherever students and their families are to be found, taking flight on its honest wings.

Write Ian at

No comments: