I was asked to take part in a special screening exclusive to CMR for the movie Hello Herman (2012) which is directed and produced by Michelle Danner in cooperation with All In Films. The screenplay is written by John Buffalo Mailer. Both individuals are to be applauded for their remarkable insight into the plight of modern youth from a sociological perspective many adults fail to comprehend or acknowledge. This poignant portrait of the abysmal descent of youth unabashedly targets the numerous influences society is quick to point fingers at (such as the video game industry, absentee parenting, the deterioration of family structure, and an apathetic educational system) but the “in between the lines” message comes across clearly to those watching openmindedly in the question Internet blogger, Lax Morales (played by the incomparable Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead and Boondock Saints), states at the beginning and end of this film – “What the hell are we going to do with these kids?” I would like to amend this question to address the underpinnings of the movie to be “What the hell are we going to do FOR these kids?”
Hello Herman initially debuted at the Hollywood Film Festival last October to a sold out audience afterwhich it received the “Award for Social Relevance” at the Monaco Film Festival this past May. It was recently released June 7, 2013 on DVD and BluRay in addition to being available through Netflix and Video-on-Demand at http://www.watchnow.hellohermanthemovie.com. As the film begins, there are clips which appear to be actual news footage that are reminiscent (and an eerie reminder) of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting especially in the context of the IMDb storyline synopsis that begins “Set in the not so distant future, in Any Town USA, sixteen-year-old Herman Howards makes a fateful decision. He enters his suburban school and kills thirty-nine students, two teachers, and a police officer.” I immediately (and almost instinctively) felt this movie was based on the New Jersey incident except for the fact Sandy Hook occurred on December 14, 2012…months AFTER this film was put into production, edited, and presented for the first time at the Hollywood Film Festival! Although we never really discover who the second teacher is, we learn one of them is Mr. Phelps who actually attempted to help Herman when he was being given a swirly in a urine-filled toilet by Michael Ray and Michael Green, two of the main targets of the murderous rampage. One teacher guilty of simply dismissing the bully beatings is Ms. Cribb who was severely injured but alive (despite a jaw amputation and intravenous feedings).
It is befitting the film begins with the ancient proverb “If we hope to heal the pain, we must first discover the cause.” This goes to the heart of the matter, not only behind the actions of Herman Howards, but the emotional deterioration of the youth in modern society. This compelling drama delves into the areas of excessive technological “babysitting” in addition to absentee parenting and bullying to take a graphic look at high school violence in a compassionate fashion which explores the “phenomenon that continues to yield national tragedies” (Danner). The two movie posters make point remarks with “No one just BECOMES a murderer” and “What would you do to be heard?”
Garrett Backstrom gives a compelling performance as Herman Howards, the young man plagued by bullying from actual physical confrontations to the Internet and cellphone which he must endure as there is no parent sounding board to which he can turn. His father abandoned the family when Herman was eight leaving his mother to pursue her career as a “top priority” which left this young man responsible for his younger sister who was killed when hit by a car while he was playing video games…the kind society targets in cases like these as violent precursors to massacres like Columbine. The reason kids gravitate toward games like the mentioned “Post Shooter” in the latchkey society is a lack of family constructs like boundaries which Danner makes no qualms about focusing on. In fact, Lax Morales asks Herman’s mother (played by Michelle Danner) if she ever restricted his viewing of “R” movies or Internet use suggesting if she was ever aware of the video games he played.
While it seems as though Herman is in complete understanding of his actions as well as the ramifications when he states “…people needed a f***ing lesson”, his focus on getting paid for the interview and his name being remembered forever signals a child with deep emotional issues seeking attention and the vehicle of the massacre is simply the exaggerated method he chose to obtain it. Danner alludes to this when Morales and Herman are discussing the concept of “reset.” Typical of teenagers who think they know it all, Herman strives to control the interview process without the appearance of hard composure typically seen in gang members when underneath it all rumblings of insecurities, fear, and the desire to be loved exist. The film brings this point to the surface at the end in a touching way when Herman cries out “I’m a human being!”
Michelle Danner’s performance is superb in the soliloquy where she hits society in the face with the facts surrounding single parenthood as familial family units continue to breakdown in the United States. On the other hand, Danner points fingers at corporate America who is far too concerned with “image” than addressing critical issues existing in society affecting employees and neighborhood public appearances which causes the sheer ripping apart of cohesiveness instead of the supporting alliance when tragedies happen especially when it involves the actions of children. Herman’s mother asks (covertly) why is the “blame game” being played when a whole community is hurt when she delivers these lines about solving the logical equation of her life~
If you take one woman living in the middle of America, break her family apart, force her to work harder to get ahead in her career than any man would, force her to live with the knowledge that her daughter was killed while she was at work trying to make money to pay for food, and then have her son lose his mind and massacre forty-two people, massacre children, and make sure that nobody talks to her, nobody listens to her, and then fire her…how long would it be before she would go completely insane all alone?
There are several disturbing (as well as completely unlikely) scenarios in this film beginning with the governor stance on religious retaliation of “an eye for an eye” in addition to the fact Herman Howards is tried (presumably) as an adult and sentenced to death by the electric chair which is to be televised which cannot legally happen for any child under the age of eighteen can not be executed in the United States any longer. Secondly, although the quotes like “He’s a monster!” are readily thrown around in instances like the one portrayed in this drama, society needs to stop and take a real hard look at the fact these are children to whom they are referring and they simply do not wake up one day as a murderer; they are, by some circumstance, created by an uncaring collective comprised of adults with their heads in the sand and desensitized youth.
It will not matter how stoic you may feel you are, I guarantee you will be crying at the end of this movie – if not for the Herman Howards of the world – for all the guilt now surfacing for the failings of adults toward the youth of today! It will (or should) make everyone, youth and adult, stop and take at look at how we treat one another with such disrespect the end result is the destruction of human life. This film should be shown to ALL adolescents who are of age to be tried as adults in the criminal justice system as a message there are other ways to be heard. It should be a part of all high school sociology and psychology classes as a method to understand the dynamcis they all face. Finally, it should be a precursor to discussions in anti-bullying efforts as well as religious rhetoric about loving thy neighbor which is a lesson we should all start practicing in society once more.
Image and additional material courtesy of IMDb. Video clip courtesy of YouTube.