Mass parents guide

Mass Parent Guide

Four incredible powerful performances overcome an otherwise mediocre film to create a moving picture of release and renewal.

Overall B+

In Theaters: The parents of a killer and the victim sit down together to try to find healing from their families' shared horror.

Release date October 15, 2021

Violence B
Sexual Content A
Profanity C-
Substance Use A

Why is Mass rated PG-13? The MPAA rated Mass PG-13 for thematic content and brief strong language

Run Time: 110 minutes

Parent Movie Review

The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. With every school shooting, terrified parents pray for their kids’ safety and hug them tight when they get home. But if that beloved child dies – or, worse yet, kills other students – that relief never comes. Grief, guilt, and anger take its place and life is never the same again.

Mass scripts an encounter between two sets of bereaved parents: Jay and Gail (Jason Issacs and Martha Plimpton) and Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney). It’s been six years since a school shooting bereaved both families and now they’re meeting in person to ask and answer questions about their sons; one the killer; the other his victim. Their meeting features attacks and angry outbursts, tears and awkward apologies, fond memories and aching bewilderment. Most of all, there’s pain, pain that fills the screen and floods into the theater. There is no denying that these people are badly wounded, crippled by anguish, broken and torn apart. The emotion is inescapable: this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where the audience was motionless at the end of the film, audibly weeping in the dark.

By every measure, Mass is a thespian tour-de-force with stellar performances from the lead performers. Jason Isaacs plays Jay with a calm veneer over his simmering rage, channeling his energy into activism. Martha Plimpton’s Gail is numb with grief, desperate to find meaning in the tragedy that has overwhelmed her. Ann Dowd portrays Linda as a woman fraying, her innate gentleness coming through the cracks in her fragmenting self. And Reed Birney’s Richard has spent so much time in guilt and anger that he seems to have entered a world that is almost beyond emotion. All four cast members are shoo-ins for Academy Award nominations and a win by any of them will be richly deserved.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film is merely adequate and doesn’t measure up to the moving performances. Mass feels like a stage production adapted (not always successfully) for the big screen; I was startled to learn that the screenplay was written for this movie. At times the dialogue feels stage-y, as if it was meant to be projected over footlights. Also irksome are the film’s secondary characters, with the minister’s over-anxious wife (Breeda Wool) making every scene feel strained. In addition, the characters’ emotional journey feels a bit too smoothly scripted to achieve the desired catharsis, but that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise powerful story. There are also a smattering of mostly minor profanities (and a single sexual expletive) but those won’t deter most adult viewers. The movie is emphatically not suited to youngsters for thematic reasons and two hours of four people talking around a table is unlikely to appeal to teens, even if they might benefit from seeing the excruciating consequences of violence.

The impact of this movie can’t be denied. It is a story that goes into the heart of suffering, that unflinchingly looks at anguish, guilt, despair, anger, and loss. But it’s also a story about healing. And while it isn’t a specifically Christian film, it will certainly appeal to Christian viewers and anyone else who resonates to the words of the soundtrack’s ubiquitous hymn, “Why should this anxious load press down your weary mind?...Come cast your burdens on the Lord and trust his constant care.” Jay, Gail, Linda, and Reed give viewers hope that peace is within reach and that’s a message we all need to hear.

Directed by Fran Kanz. Starring Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney. Running time: 110 minutes. Theatrical release October 15, 2021. Updated

Watch the trailer for Mass

Rating & Content Info

Why is Mass rated PG-13? Mass is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic content and brief strong language

Violence: There are brief mentions of a school shooting, including descriptions of injuries and suffering, and mentions of throwing a homemade bomb.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity:  There are seven terms of deity, one scatological curse, and one sexual expletive in the film.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.

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Mass Parents' Guide

What are some of the aftereffects of school shootings? How do they affect students and parents over the short and long term? What can be done to prevent school shootings?

CNN: 10 years. 180 school shootings. 356 victims

Time: “The World Moves On And You Don’t” Parents Who Lost Children in School Shootings Find Comfort in a Group No One Wants to Join

Stanford News: Stanford researchers uncover the silent cost of school shootings

American Psychological Association: What happens to the survivors

The Guardian: My son, the Columbine high school shooter: “a mother is supposed to know”


Home Video

Related home video titles:

The agonizing aftermath of school shootings is explored in two excellent documentaries, Parkland Rising and Us Kids.

Amish Grace tells the true story of a school shooting in Pennsylvania in 2006 and the remarkable forgiveness extended by the parents of the dead girls to the family of the shooter.