A Rudder for the Rudderless

If you haven't seen the masterful William H. Macy movie, Rudderless, you need to. And if you have seen it and are wrestling with something please read on. Moreover, if you felt there was a lack somewhere, anywhere, consider how to find the composure to read on.

Like a lion craftily stalking her prey, the 84th fatal school shooting in America since the time of Columbine occurred this past October 3, 2014. On a warm fall night, 17-year-old student, Kristofer Hunter, was gunned down in the Langston Hughes High School parking lot after a homecoming game. One of two suspects turned himself in a week later, while the other remains at large.

But who knew? Everyone in the southwestern environs of Atlanta, for sure. Still, why track these horrific events, you might ask? The truth is that I've been tracking these events formally and informally since Dan Rather was broadcasting about this "epidemic" back in the very early 2000s. Seeing such an unresolved aspect of "educational-dom" crystallized the reason I needed to find out how to put a stop to the ongoing spate school shootings in America. It took a decade to build credibility and resolve on the topic, but I'm now confident that as nation we can stop these awful tragedies.

Make no mistake, however. The tragedy this month in Fairburn, Georgia was not a major school shooting involving 4 or more targets - we've had eight of those since Columbine - consider those like either a Category 4 educational storm of tragedies in many cases, or the catastrophic events like Columbine, Newtown, or Virginia Tech as Category 5 events. For sure, the deadly shooting just weeks ago involved less devastation and fewer grieving family members, but still at least a couple families have newly been made rudderless by the unfathomable violence caused by an adolescent and a gun.

My research in the coming book, Ending School Shootings, includes in it the scope of smaller school shootings along with the major ones because I believe we are losing one school at a time in our nation of 99,000 schools. We need the solutions and even set of solutions so desperately so that we can start taking these schools back. Imagine a country where we have not had a single fatal school shooting for a year, for five years, for ten years, and onward. Keep reading.


The movie Rudderless (again, if you did not see it, stop reading -- go see the movie) eloquently described the internal strife in an adult coming of age story, a father finding himself and journeying a path that his wayward son helped create.

I was initially left rudderless after the film. Macy's characters were and are fantastic hallmarks of both great acting and vividly portraying the everyday nature of this American problem. Billy Crudup as the dad, Sam, was slowly unraveling his life in a spiral of alcoholism and despair. As time goes on, the viewer catches his cataclysmic historical event - that his son was a ruthless killer. But by then we are bonded to him as a character. Felicity Huffman plays his ex-wife, Emily, a woman who is also trying to figure it out and not having many of the answers. Miles Heizer played their son Josh - as regular as they come - but who was internally conflicted and fast-tracked to detach his rudder and become utterly rudderless.

As a way of finding a place to begin to feel amidtst the landslide of pain, Sam starts playing guitar at the Trill Tavern, conveniently owned by a repeated cameo of Macy. In the grooving band that forms quite serendipitously are Quentin, played by Anton Yelchin, and two other band members named Aiken and Willie, played by Ryan Dean and Ben Kweller. For balance, there is also a compassionate guitar store owner named Del, played by Laurence Fishburne, who gives Sam a place to voice his ongoing character genesis and growth.

The storyline was gritty to the core, and was skillfully held together by the authentic band of brothers, so to speak, that utilized a unique score that somehow put to music what was really grating in the father's life. It's an amazing story too how Macy reached out to the Indie song-writing community to put ribs, arms, and legs on his soundtrack - amazing! The father Sam's terribly infected dilemma of self-suffering-turned-opportunity was built on the fact that his own failures could either be seen as (a) what set his son off going the wrong direction or in fact (b) the very crucible of events, trials, and true fiber that could set the father back going the right direction.

As I said, I was left aching - pierced in both heart and conscience - at the end of the movie. There was no resolve but to pause and reflect. My reasons for being torn asunder stemmed from how the dad might not have been seen as palatable or comforting to those 84 families (or more really when we consider the assailants) that now grieve the losses from school shootings in America. But who am I to say this, having not grieved one loss personally! And Sam lost his own son.

As my wife and I talked, the strengths of this epic film emerged. Yes, we need to consider the victims and honor their memories. But also we need to remember the living and their need to live onward and upward lives that can honor the humanity we live among. As William H. Macy so aptly put it, we need to find the "story of redemption" that proves how awesome a species that we are. The holy books call this appreciating the 'Beauty' in the place of 'Ashes'.

The movie ends where this article on the importance of a rudder will also conclude. I won't spoil it all because I know that some voracious readers are at this sentence reading along and they still haven't seen the film. Yes, go see it - Don't hesitate!

The conclusion for the father is where his life goes full circle -- it's a new beginning. He reaches the point of helping others through his pain including his wife, his former son's girlfriend, his awesome band. It is where the actor Billy Crudlup is seen as a master artisan and where the story now comes to us... what are we going to do with this decades-long spate of school shootings in America since Columbine?

Are we going to argue the numbers? Are we going to blame the politicians? Are we going to grieve alone? Are we going to act? Or are we going to do everything that is possible within our power to make this country a better and safer place? I think when you find the answer you too will have found your rudder.

Thank you William Hall Macy and Dan Rather - you both helped me find my rudder - and you are helping a nation too find theirs.


Dr. Jonathan Doll writes articles on school shooting prevention with the Huffington Post. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at Jonathan@EndingSchoolShootings.org.