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Two Movies Want to Figure Out Spree Killings

I’d known that a movie adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s agonizing novel about the family of a school shooter, We Need to Talk About Kevin was in the works. But I hadn’t known that there were two prestige movies on the subject coming out this summer. In addition to Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in the former, we’re getting Maria Bello and Michael Sheen as parents of a boy who kills his fellow college students and then himself in Beautiful Boy. In a way, I think it’s useful that they’re coming out together. We Need to Talk About Kevin is about the leadup to a spree killing, and about the questions of nature and nurture:

And it looks like Beautiful Boy will be focused more on the aftermath of the shooting and how the killer’s families come to terms both with what he’s done and with their memories of him:

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While I think both of these movies may be psychologically useful for audiences, but I’m not sure what their use is — or really any attempt to understand why someone does something like this — in trying to make sure that spree killings happen with less frequency. There are obvious and valuable policy lessons we can take away from these shootings, whether they happen in an Arizona parking lot or rural Virginia campus, about the availability of automatic weapons and ammunition and about how hard it is to get quality and sustained mental health care at a reasonable cost. But we’re not ever going to unlock a motivational key that will keep anyone from ever wanting to commit murder on this scale again.