Pekka: Inside the Mind of a School Shooter at Doc Point Festival

First, I must point out that the name of the film is misleading. We do not get inside the mind of a school shooter, since the last thing that got inside that was a bullet from his own gun. After such an experience, there doesn’t tend to be a lot left for inquiry. This, might be obvious to some, is not a particularly good way to get interest for your side of the story: Interest, if a bit ghoulish, is now there. Your side of the story isn’t, any more. It is currently much in fashion for documents to have a point of view. They often criticize something , such as the BBC’s Apples’ Broken Promises, which exposes the dismal working conditions of the people putting the iProducts together. Many of the DocPoint films,though, were about the “single small human” –Land of Smiles, My Neighbor Tuula, Max and the Others, for example –and with all of these, the fondness of the director for their subject matter was evident. After all, why spend a year or more following someone’s life if you don’t feel there’s something worthwhile about that life?

Pekka is by necessity different, since the main character is dead, and also rather difficult to sympathize with. The film could easily have been the most tabloidy sort of exploitation – kids these days, aren’t they evil, must be the horror videos/ devilish rock music/ computer games/ pick one. “Inside of the mind of a school shooter” is not an easy film, that way or any other. It’s …disquieting.

The director, being Dutch, presumably was not reading the Finnish papers at the time the shooting occurred (for full disclosure, neither was I. The approach of someone who had been in Finland at the time would no doubt be different –Pekka-Eric Auvinen was Finland’s first school shooter; before him, such preposterously extreme violence belonged in public mind to the United States or such faraway places. For many Finns, no doubt, it is impossible to consider Auvinen as anything but monster bringing pure evil to world previously safe). The director, being an outsider, has no opinion, stated or easily inferred, about what is being presented, but follows the old-school documentary style of simply pointing a camera at things and letting them happen – in this case, letting the people who were involved, speak.

The end result is confusing, and frightening.

The documentary paints a picture of a small, quiet, closed community –one of those small towns about which, to quote Lou Reed, the only good thing is you know that you want to get out. The reaction of the school to the quiet, weird kid being badly bullied is contacting his parents and suggesting he wear more jeans, and maybe start playing ice hockey. Then again the parents are, in the eyes of the community, rather suspicious too –the father was even a musician when younger.

The reaction of other community members came across as likewise baffling, and perhaps, considering the situation, quite inadequate. Teacher: no, there was no bullying, not ever. Boys will be boys... Classmates: no, I never bullied, not at all. It’s true everyone else were horrible to him all the time, and are now in daytime TV insisting they were his friends –but never me.

The reaction of the child psychologist is that this sort of thing is typical of autistic children and could not have been prevented (to which the PhD in psychology accompanying me to the movie blurted out “what unbelievable shit”).

The gun shop owners who sold Pekka the gun he used on his rampage insist they did nothing wrong and are not at all sorry, especially since the villagers have taken to spitting them in the face.

There is an exception, opposite, foil if you like -Pekka’s old internet crush, who never actually met him. Yet she still keeps asking herself what she did wrong, could she have known, could she have stopped it all from happening. She even writes to another shooter who was not killed during his rampage, to ask what she could have done differently (nothing, he assures her, in a sympathetic manner which is the more peculiar considering why she asked him in the first place).

Of course I am not, nor will I ever, in any way suggest that any victim of violence deserved it in any way whatsoever. That said, the documentary draws an eerie picture of a community where might makes right (go ahead and bully, boys will be boys), where everything is always someone else’s fault and everyone else must be suspected: where asking yourself if there’s anything you yourself could do differently just isn’t done. In that way, Pekka ends up being the catastrophic perfect storm of all those attitudes –everything is someone else’s fault, everyone else should be suspected, I myself couldn’t do anything differently…

The fault of course is of the person who grabs the gun. But I still can’t help thinking that as impossible it is to sympathize with someone who does something as extreme as Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the small attitudes and behaviors we display in everyday events, might end up having more influence than we might think. Sure, it is easy to say that Pekka was evil –his actions surely were –but it is perhaps more fruitful to not concentrate on how evil someone else is and how good we can’t but help look compared to them, and instead ask how we ourselves could be better.

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