Where to Watch: HBO Max
First Air: 1.27.2022
As a twentysomething, I’ve been hearing about healing, therapy, and trauma all my life. So when I sat down to watch The Fallout, I felt ready for a fictional movie about teens who survive a high school shooting. What I wasn’t prepared to do was address my own blind spot when it comes to the relationship between activism and healing.
After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, I joined a March For Our Lives demonstration in downtown Los Angeles. I thought the best response to trauma was action. But this film showed me that while some believe we should turn our pain into purpose by fighting for change head-on, others simply need time to heal.
Megan Park’s directorial debut, The Fallout, is a mesmerizing drama that captures not only the Gen Z high school experience, but how teens coming of age form their relationships with civic action for the first time. The characters Vada, Mia, Quinton, Nick, and Amelia are diverse and relatable, with protagonist Vada in particular brought to life in an outstanding performance by actress Jenna Ortega.
When the shooting happens seven minutes into the film,you can almost feel the students’ fear and helplessness through the screen. In the aftermath, the survivors search for normalcy in their lives and bond over their shared trauma. They find the words to voice their emotions and experiences, and support each other as they navigate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and survivor’s guilt. In one scene, Vada tells her therapist she feels ashamed that she’s too numb to take action, especially as her friend Nick has joined political demonstrations. She doesn’t feel like she can make a difference, and fears that she’ll lose her friendship with Nick because of her inaction. The film does not judge Vada or force her to do anything. Instead, it gives her room to process.
Nick recovers through political engagement, connecting with Everytown for Gun Safety to find out how to start a movement or get a bill passed to prevent another school shooting from happening elsewhere. He goes on to make speeches at marches and become the face of the school’s efforts to make change, calling for “honest politics and leadership” on gun control and criticizing “politicians with NRA money in their pockets.” His activism mirrors the development of March For Our Lives, a youth-led movement for gun control. Unfortunately, his friendship with Vada suffers as he struggles to understand why her coping mechanisms are different from his.
Gun control has returned to the political forefront since the Stoneman Douglas shooting, which killed 17 students. According to ABC News in 2019, there were 11 deadly mass school shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, including the one at Stoneman Douglas. The Fallout brings a fresh perspective to these tragedies, centering squarely on the teen survivors. Previous films about school shootings have instead tended to focus on the shooter’s background and motive, the parents’ aftermath, the survivors’ aftermath as adults, or the incident itself. As the film explores trauma across the different characters, it gets the importance of how young people process feelings and form identity so, so right.
The film is filled with pop culture references, TikTok dances, and natural first experiences — crushes, periods, drugs, and alcohol. Given its excellent acting and writing, I couldn’t recommend a film more for older teens. It is sure to spark conversations with peers about emotional support and gun control, as well as with their parents about the reality of their experiences today. It will also encourage more of what we all deserve: compassion.
To learn more about the gun control debate, visit https://gun-control.procon.org/.