About a boy (and his gun)

Poignant film takes aim at familiar issue in a strange new way

Don M. Burrows

Last week’s news made the scheduled press showing of “Dear Wendy” all the more disturbing.

Outside Oak Street Cinema, where the film will open locally this weekend, newspaper racks still screeched headlines about a 17-year-old high-schooler who allegedly recruited two classmates to blow away his parents.

Inside the theater, the projector flapped a fantastic story about young social outcasts, their guns and their slow seduction into violence. Or at least it seems fantastic, until one remembers Columbine. And Jonesboro. And Red Lake. And now, events more recent and nearer home.

“Dear Wendy” is the latest collaboration of director Thomas Vinterberg and writer Lars Von Trier. Filmed in Europe, it takes place in a small, impoverished mining town in Southeast America, referred to as “Electric Square.”

Dick (Jamie Bell) is a reject alongside his co-worker until the two discover a common interest in firing guns in an abandoned mine shaft. Carrying their weapons concealed within their pockets then gives them a sort of confidence, and they soon find themselves willing to stare down even the surly miners in town.

As the two recruit still more outcasts from the neighborhood, this fascination with firearms is repeatedly cast against the characters’ pacifist views. Their repeated pronouncement that they would never use their guns on people leaves one wondering when the other shoe will drop.

The hint that this movie will be dealing with a subculture of sorts – with the social substitutions that occur when members of a community feel ostracized – is hinted at the beginning when Dick gives dandy Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” as a gift. He and his secretive gun-slingers then adopt “The Dandies” as their group identity. Along with the name, they take on a host of creepy ritualistic rules, costumes and procedures.

The No. 1 Dandy rule is to never brandish one’s weapon. But the group becomes so enthralled in the working of their guns (and even the grotesque schematics of entry and exit wounds) that it’s inevitable this central rule will be broken.

Between the promotional materials and the actual movie, it’s hard to know what to think about “Dear Wendy.” The Web site seems to revel in the kids’ gunplay, and without question Vinterberg and Von Trier are playing with our simultaneous fear and fascination with weaponry.

And yet “Dear Wendy” also appears hauntingly like a look into the world of those misunderstood suburban kids who turn unexpectedly toward bloodshed. The five youths featured in the film all embody that precarious concoction of adolescence, social rejection, attraction to the morbid and, of course, access to firearms.

One review on the film’s Web site called it enjoyable despite being “unrealistic.”

But the unsettling part about “Dear Wendy” is that it most definitely could happen.

This is true in spite of the sort of bizarre situation that spurs the film’s violent finale. As the Dandies create their

detached world in a covert headquarters they call “the Temple,” one is reminded why teenagers can be so dangerous. The egocentrism and detachment from reality that so often aggravates teen angst easily lead to brutal consequences, as we have seen.

“Dear Wendy” is a very entertaining film, but its poignancy lies in the tough questions it should provoke about guns. Just as the characters in the film, there are many who swear their fascination with weaponry is not violently based, and yet this always confronts the reality that arms are instruments of intentional harm. Guns – no matter their historic and mechanical allure – were still invented to be the most effective and efficient killing contraption.

Can that intrinsic purpose be divorced from the weapon and the one who loves it? “Dear Wendy” may not posit the definitive answer, but the question will stay with you for a long time.