MIFF Next Gen Review: Blackbird

0 Comments 28 July 2013

The Melbourne International Film Festival Next Gen reviews continue, as MAHAKARAN SANDHU gives us his thoughts on the bold, thought-provoking, must-see Blackbird.

School massacres orchestrated by social outcasts and victims of bullying have become all too common tragedies. Only last year, we saw a nation in mourning following the cold killing of 20 innocent children and six of their teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, USA. Yet what is it that allows ordinary youth to take up arms against their own kin? Blackbird, a Canadian film premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival, explores these themes of ostracism, social paranoia, injustice and love.

Blackbird follows the story of Sean, a somewhat antisocial teen who dresses goth. Bullying follows him like a plague at school, and at home he only has his father; his mother has left him. The film opens with Sean being apprehended by the police and we learn that he has kept a “Satanic” diary, in which he has planned a “methodical, unemotional, hard” shooting at school. From there, the film spirals into a series of flashbacks that reveal the dire circumstances Sean was facing to reach this point.

A delicate love story follows the tragedy of the film. Sean’s “friend who’s more than a friend”, Diana, wants to be liked by her peers — the same bullies who abase Sean. So she is torn from within when she realises she fancies Sean. The pair gets on quite well, but their relationship is not without strife, especially from Diana’s family: after all, who wants their daughter to be in love with a convicted psychopath?

Yes, convicted. A local court find Sean guilty of planning a massacre, and he’s sentenced to juvenile prison, even though he has pleaded not guilty. His experience in jail is more than sour: he makes a foe of Trevor, the head honcho of the prison thugs, who — upon learning that Sean was imprisoned for planning a massacre — assaults Sean.

Though it may seem that Blackbird is a somewhat political film made to shed light on the pressing issue of school shootings, the implications of the themes explored go far deeper than that.

The film depicts society’s paranoia towards the different and non-conforming. The theme is clear throughout: those who are different are shunned, unless they become part of the herd. This plays on the human nature of fear: we are scared of what we do not know or understand, and when we fear something, all we want is for it to be gone. That’s exactly what happens to Sean. Being the black sheep, he is ostracised and locked up.

It also plays on another aspect of human nature, though more subtly: the power of fear to distort reality. Seeing Sean’s gothic attire, his Satanic blog posts, his death threats and the stash of weapons in his room, the community feared the worst. And fear distorted their view of reality: they failed to see the real reason behind Sean’s actions. And for that, they wrongly convicted him.

Teenage love is often thought of as intense but fleeting. Yet, in Blackbird, we see that it binds Sean and Diana together in a bond that mere prison cells cannot break. Though Diana’s parents strongly object to this relationship, Diana continues to see Sean, and becomes the main reason for Sean’s survival in jail.

The justice system has never been perfect, and will never be perfect. Blackbird offers a stirring depiction of this fact, with Sean’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Also, we see another example: that of Trevor. Trevor had murdered a pedophile in self-defense, yet he ended up in jail due to the injustice of the system.

Blackbird encompasses crucial themes prevalent throughout society, issues that we may feel uncomfortable to discuss. It is bold, frank, real and relatable: it speaks the reality as it is. To teenagers, this film is a godsend; to adults, a timely reminder of the perils of a conforming “sheep-like” society. Blackbird is a must-see film, completely original, fresh, thought provoking and deeply emotional.

Blackbird screens at MIFF on July 31 and August 6. Visit for more information.

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