How Soon Is Too Soon?

Today I was going to go see the new movie “Patriots Day,” which came out last week and is finally around locally. But I couldn’t.

Oh, I’m sure it’s an excellent film. Right now, it has a 79 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes, not an overwhelming vote of confidence, but then it’s not exactly a spin-off of the latest J.K. Rowling grocery list. It stars Boston-bred Mark “Remember When He was Marky Mark?” Wahlberg, a good actor and John Goodman (also reliably good) playing Ed Davis, the Boston Police Commissioner who was a key figure in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It sounds like an intriguing movie by all accounts. The problem is, that for me, it’s just too soon. No, as a Massachusetts native, I’m lucky to not have lost anyone in that tragedy, but I remember what the experience was like.

Last year, two Boston films based on real-life events came out: “Black Mass,” about mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe team of journalists who broke the Catholic Church sex abuse story. Both were well-attended when I saw them in the theater, particularly the first, which had as many audience members as my visit to last year’s “Ghostbusters” reboot. And both were fully absorbing, if disturbing narratives to view. I’m blessed to never have encountered Mr. Bulger personally, but I remembered when the Globe story broke and how it hit home (I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I grew up in a mostly Catholic small town.) But though I planned to see “Patriots Day” when I first saw the trailer, ultimately, I couldn’t manage it.

In Massachusetts, April 15 is both tax return due day and Patriot Day, an odd duo. Yearly athletes participate, including many from my suburban community. If the weather decides to cooperate (and around here, it’s not inconceivable that it might decide to snow instead), it’s a festive occasion. But four years ago, two men set off a bomb during the marathon which killed several, injured many, and caused untold anxiety and heartbreak, including during the statewide manhunt for one on April 19. Ultimately, one of the perpetrators died and the other one, after triggering a manhunt, was killed. It was a tragedy, but like many, it also provided an opportunity to see some of the best, as well as the worst, in human nature.

The day after, a friend went with me to help me buy a car, and it was safe to say, that our attention was not completely focused on the sale. During the lengthy process where the salesperson has to run back and forth between his boss and you, the customer, we kept craning our necks trying to see what was going on in the news on the flat screen. We avoided mentioning the subject when the guy returned, but I’m sure it was all on all three of our minds. Afterwards, I drove home with the radio on. During the manhunt a couple days later, helicopters hovered over my town, and later on, a local funeral home was criticized for handling the arrangement of one of the brothers. Obviously, an extremely painful time, and far more so, for those who knew the victims.

I don’t know if it’s too soon for enough people for “Patriots Day” not to perform well at the box office. The “rules” for how soon you can make a movie about a public tragedy have varied over the years, and also depend on whether it’s for the big or small screen. In the nineties, not one but three TV movies about Amy Fisher, the “Long Island Lolita” came out, which more than a few people considered a new low in the history of TV movies. But obviously, it’s a decision that each movie director must deal with themselves. And each would-be viewer. I expect I will catch “Patriots Day” on DVD someday. But just not right now.


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