With all the buzz surrounding the Academy Awards ceremony that took place on Sunday, February 22nd, it is easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the nominated films. While some avid film fans may be disappointed with the Academy’s picks for winners, the down time after Oscar season allows for exploration of other less recognized films. One in particular that deserves a watch—especially by college students—is William H. Macy’s directorial debut Rudderless. Although the film premiered at the 2014 Sundance festival over a year ago, the film was released not long ago for home viewing, so it cannot be passed off as old news. In fact, the film, despite being a movie with musical themes, has an even more important overarching theme: gun violence, particularly on college campuses. This is particularly relevant considering the recent shooting at the University of North Carolina, as well as the Florida State University shooting that happened last November.
The film centers on businessman Sam, played by the talented Billy Crudup, whose life begins to spiral after his son is tragically killed in a campus shooting. After a few years of not coping with the loss of his only child, Sam’s ex-wife brings him a box of his son’s old demos. Sam begins to listen to them and is immediately drawn to the beautiful music and lyrics his son composed. After breaking out his old guitar and learning the songs, Sam decides to play one at an open mic session at a local bar. The powerful song catches the attention of Quentin (played by the ever-versatile Anton Yelchin of Star Trek and Charlie Bartlett fame), who begs Sam to partner up and make the song better. At first hesitant, Sam eventually agrees, and before the pair knows it, they have formed a successful band named Rudderless (with a few extra members to boot, including indie musician Ben Kweller), playing for the packed bar every Saturday. If you want to know what happens next, you just have to watch. You will not be disappointed and will walk away feeling changed not only by the music, but also by the conversation that film aims to generate.
Rudderless goes beyond the inspirational original music. After shootings occur at colleges, many students experience how close to home a shooting feels. Not only does it heighten our awareness of our surroundings—at least for a few weeks—but it also makes us ask ourselves, “What if that happened to me? What if it that happened at my campus?” It is difficult to imagine how greatly a shooting affects not only the students of the campus, but also the families who lose their children to tragedy. We tend to only commemorate the lives that were lost, causing us to not think immediately of their friends and family who lose a child or friend to a campus shooting. Rudderless opens viewers’ eyes to the storms those left behind have to weather in the wake of loss. It is a beautiful representation of the healing process through a medium many of us turn to in times of general discomfort: music. Sam’s connection with Quentin leads him closer to the person he was before his son died and also opens his eyes to a son he did not know quite as well as he thought he did.
The conversation about gun violence should have been emphasized after the Newtown incident. Then again, this conversation should have been changed into a call for action after Columbine and furthered after the Virginia Tech shooting. Rudderless may have a more subtle approach to this conversation, but more films should follow its lead in starting a discourse on this matter. Oftentimes in film, we only see gun violence as a glorified means to defeat “the bad guy,” making us think civilian gun use is a matter that can be taken lightly. More films need to remind us that murder by guns is not a matter of cinema magic: it happens every day. The media needs to stop desensitizing us to gun violence and failing to remind us how greatly lives can be changed due to irresponsibility with weapons. Although the matter of gun control is sensitive and civilian access to guns will most likely never be restricted, it is important to remember the lives lost because of gun violence. It is particularly difficult to acknowledge that this violence happens in utopias of learning, such as universities, but students need to be aware of this matter and films such as Rudderless help us see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is just not always easy to get there before we heal.
Watch Rudderless for the fantastic soundtrack and its lead actors who shine like they born to play rock and roll music their whole lives. Watch it to remember how greatly life can be changed in a matter of moments that turn into years for the people involved in the incident. Rudderless is not just a film about the way we can impact each other; it is a film about picking up the pieces and starting again with new perspectives. The film reminds us that we should all take a moment to remember our parents and loved ones and how the things we do still impact them, despite our newfound independence at university. Taking a cue from Best Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons’ Oscar acceptance speech, call your mother and remember to not take your loved ones for granted.
Rudderless is available to watch through Redbox and Amazon Instant Video.