Probably the most impressive as well as shocking and disturbing thing about “The Killing of America” was how it feels just as relevant, if not even more so, as it was when it was released back in the day. Maybe apart from the assassination of politicians, things seem to have gotten worse, instead of better, and there are some issues raised here – like how easy it is in the US to acquire attack rifles legally – that had me wallow in anger and despair, since there seems to have been no progress in that regard whatsoever.
The first half of the movie was especially interesting and disturbing, with its examination of the spiral of violence that seemed to clutch the U.S. more and more, following the assassination of JFK. Even more than the part about politically motivated killing of famous people, however, I was greatly disturbed by the chapter about snipers and similar amok runs, who also grew more frequent back then, and continue to do so until today. It’s shocking to realize that it would be far too easy to do some sort of sequel to this today, and the images and footage from said suicide runs were especially disturbing to me. After that, however, the movie makes a rather drastic turn, going away from (seemingly) random acts of violence to sexually motivated murders, as well as serial killers. While I understand Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader’s aspiration to portray the violence that held America in its grip as comprehensively as possible, it was a weird shift somehow, since it seemed to be less about how society in itself seemed to spiral into violence, and more about the specific crimes of certain individuals. It was still quite interesting and occasionally shocking, but didn’t quite reach the same heights as the first half of the movie for me. Also, I guess one has to concede that in giving these disturbed individuals a forum, “The Killing of America” also provides them with one of the things that they were striving for with their acts: Popularity, if not immortality. Thus, that aspect of the documentary is definitely questionable. However, with the murder of John Lennon and the footage of the wake in Central Park, together with his unforgettable hymn “Imagine”, which infuses a certain amount of hope, only to squash it again right away directly before the end credits roll, “The Killing of America” ends on a high note, and overall, it’s an extremely important documentary which, thanks to its unabated relevance, sadly is less of a historic document, but rather continues to be an upsetting and important wake-up call for all of us.