No Laughing Matter

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A few months ago on "BreakPoint," Chuck Colson talked about the movie Wristcutters: A Love Story and its controversial ad campaign. That campaign, targeted at older teens and young adults, showed people committing suicide in various ways. The campaign alone was disturbing enough to draw the ire of mental health organizations and psychiatrists. But as Chuck said at the time, it is the film itself that is really troublesome. It is a dark comedy that follows the adventures of a group of people who have killed themselves.

All of that happened while Wristcutters was still a little-known independent film playing at film festivals. Now it is beginning to open in theaters. Although it opened only in three locations on the weekend of October 19, Wristcutters did well with critics and earned a high per-screen average. It goes into wide release in early November.

As we said, the target audience for this film is young people. The film website Cinematical asks, "Is 'Wristcutters' the Next Teen Cult Flick?" The site reports, "It's even got a following already, according to Courtney Solomon, the head of After Dark films. . . . He says: 'People do actually quote the lines, and it's gotten such an underground following just from doing the festival circuit.'" So while the movie may not be destined for mainstream success, Wristcutters is still poised to have an impact on the very age group most vulnerable to its nihilistic worldview.

To recap briefly, Wristcutters begins with a young man killing himself in his bathroom, and then moves to a purgatory-like place where he and others who killed themselves go through the motions of a meaningless existence. We see flashbacks to many of these people's suicides. The story revolves around the protagonist's effort to find an old flame who also committed suicide, only to fall for another girl instead.

As you have probably figured out, there is a lot missing from this afterlife: for instance, any sort of divine presence or any sort of grappling with spiritual themes. The connections between human beings are the main focus and the only real topic of interest to anyone. Any figures meant to represent divinity or transcendence turn out to be phonies or arbitrary-minded bureaucrats, and most things they do end in disaster. The ending tries to lighten the mood a little, but its version of the triumph of human love comes off as not much more than a fluke, and it does not do much to dispel the darkness that came before it.

I am not saying that films should not deal with controversial subjects. Many of the best films ever made have done just that. But the way in which they tackle these issues is important, especially when they are trying to target a younger audience. Wristcutters obviously is not telling kids and young adults to go out and kill themselves. But what the Village Voice called its "uneasy mix of gallows humor and irrational optimism" is, at best, an irresponsible way to tell a story about suicide to teenagers.

The makers of Wristcutters may be hoping for cult success with teens, but let's hope that parents won't let it happen. We need to counter the appeal of Wristcutters by talking with our kids and making sure they understand that suicide and its aftermath are no laughing matter.

From BreakPoint®, November 8, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship