Events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre on Tasmania in an attempt to understand why and how the atrocity occurred. Nitram (Caleb Landry-Jones) lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that friendship meets its tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent into a nightmare that culminates in the most nihilistic and heinous of acts.
The mass shooting that was perpetrated at Port Arthur in 1996 by Martin Bryant is seared into the memories of all Australians. It left 35 people dead and a further 23 wounded. NITRAM explores what happened in the lead up to that massacre.
The title of the movie, NITRAM, is Martin spelled backwards and was, is according to the movie, a nickname that Martin Bryant was called when he was at school.
NITRAM never shows the massacre itself — a wise decision by the film makers. Instead, we follow Martin Bryant in the lead up to the event. The focus is on the personality and life experiences of Bryant and is deeply disturbing — partly, I think, because we know where it all leads and, partly, due to the phenomenal acting of Caleb Laundry-Jones.
Shaun Grant, the writer, has created a movie that, along with the director, Justin Kurzel, is respectful of the victims of the massacre and places the responsibility for the atrocity firmly on Martin Bryant who pleaded guilty to the crime — with a few suggestions at some who may have not taken their responsibilities to act seriously and may have prevented it from happening.
There is little violence in NITRAM. The psychological themes are the focus here. They’re unsettling enough. We get to understand the circumstances that led up to the crime. But the movie never makes these circumstances an excuse for what happened. NITRAM is one of the most sensitively handled movies about a mass shooting that I have seen. Worth a look if you want to gain a sliver of insight into a horrendous moment in Australian history. NITRAM is one of the most sensitively handled movies about a mass shooting that I have seen. Worth a look if you want to gain a sliver of insight into a horrendous moment in Australian history — something that perhaps can never be fully understood.
(In cinemas in Australia – check your movie guide for your local show times.)