Before I begin with my review, I'd just like to thank Moviepilot and HBO for allowing me early access to screen this thought-provoking documentary on a topic with which we should not be so well-versed.
Requiem for the Dead and the psychological drama Requiem for a Dream don’t just share a similar title. They convey a similar tone of inevitable doom. Requiem for the Dead: American Spring 2014 is a bleak look into the reality of gun use across America in a mere four month snapshot of 2014. Whereas Requiem for a Dream has the silver-lining of being a fictitious cautionary tale of the American Dream, the grim fates of our characters in Requiem for the Dead are all too real and all for naught.
The tagline of the documentary is, “Every spring in America more than 8,000 people die from gunfire.” It’s a staggering number which leaves viewers aghast when they get the chance to meet seven families in their darkest hours. We get to know families from across the country varying in socioeconomic status, race, religion, etc. The documentary unveils the nightmares of each family solely through social media posts, 9-1-1 accounts, news articles, and police profiles. It’s basically a really long slideshow of title cards, pictures, audio clips, and videos. The viewer gets an effective glimpse into the situation of each of the families. There are families that you can connect with in some way, whether it be the family going through a divorce, an Army family dealing with PTSD, a newlywed couple, or the seemingly happy, nuclear family.
I experienced a noticeable descent from empathy to apathy while watching the documentary. In the beginning, I personally connected with the families of small children. It was tragic to see a family completely shattered by guns. Then I felt for the young couples who had nothing to do with any guns, yet their fates met the end of one. I really could see the direction the documentary had in mind, and I became upset with guns.
Then more articles came across the screen. In between each family segment, there would be pictures of news articles/headlines from other random acts of gun violence and death due to guns. I felt for those people, too. Then about four families into it, a lack-of feeling entered my mind. I recognized that the deaths weren’t getting to me as much anymore. I thought the documentary would head towards focusing on the apathy across America when it comes to violence in the media, but the documentary continued.
It was at this point that I wondered if the documentary would come to a point. Why do they keep showing me story after story of people being senseless with guns. Finally, that’s when the last sentiments came over me. I started to look back at the people throughout the documentary. What’s the similar thread here? People. People are the ones using the guns to commit these heinous acts. This documentary has clearly shown people are either mentally unstable or far too immature to handle firearms. It’s the people that are the commonality in all of this. Then, the documentary ended.
Requiem for the Dead is directed by Nick Doob and Shari Cookson. Their previous work includes another documentary for HBO: Emmy-winning The Alzheimer’s Project: The Memory Loss Tapes. I watched the trailer for that doc, and its message was clearly that of hopefulness in the midst of such an awful disease. Requiem for the Dead lacked that unambiguous focus. It provoked many ideas, but there was no follow-through. Without any sort of narration or unifying text giving context or purpose, the documentary fell flat for me. I left the documentary with a weight of vicarious horrors wondering "What now?".
At the end of the sixty-eight minutes of incessant despair, I had to listen to the most cheerful music I could find because the documentary didn’t leave me with anything else.
You can watch the upcoming HBO documentary on June 22nd.