AND THEN I GO: A Poignant Look at The Problems That Lead To School Violence, Through The Eyes of Two Troubled Teens
Littleton, Colorado. Blacksburg, Virginia. Newtown, Pennsylvania. Parkland, Florida. Sadly, these cities will forever be associated with some of the deadliest school shootings in American history.
Though the news media balances the sobering facts of these tragedies with the emotional stories of survivors, the reasons why some young people perpetrate school violence are always up for speculation — be they mental illness, insufficient gun laws, bullying and/or family difficulties.
While the epidemic of school shootings has been a topic confronted in episodes of TV series and movies like Gus Van Sant’s 2003 drama Elephant, the acclaimed new film And Then I Go explores the trauma and desperation felt by children who feel they have no choice but to inflict fatal revenge against a world that doesn’t understand the problems they grapple with.
Directed by Vincent Grashaw (Coldwater), and with its screenplay co-written by Brett Haley and Jim Shepard (who adapted it from his critically praised novel Project X), And Then I Go chronicles the considerable yet occasionally fractious bond between two teenagers who suffer from the cruelty of bullies at school while finding little support from their parents and teachers.
Armon Darbo plays Edwin, whose tense home life is defined by conflicts with his parents (played by Justin Long and Melanie Lynskey), and his social struggles with fellow classmates. Edwin’s longtime friend, the equally troubled Flake (Sawyer Barth), faces the same problems with kids and adults that Edwin confronts.
As their friendship evolves, Flake reveals to Edwin that he’s found his dad’s secret cache of assault weapons. Soon, Flake lures Edwin into his plan to get back at everyone who’s wronged him; a plan that could ultimately lead to incalculable tragedy. And Then I Go’s cast also counts among it 2-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) as school principal Mr. Mosley, and Carrie Preston as Edwin’s art teacher Ms. Arnold.
In 2017, And Then I Go premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and one of its recent screenings took place at the Louisiana International Film Festival in Baton Rouge on April 21st. The previous day (April 20th) marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, plus the student-led National School Walkout, held in support of strengthening federal firearms regulation. As of April 18th, And Then I Go can be purchased digitally and on-demand.
With the film concluding its festival run, Grashaw discusses And Then I Go’s difficult journey from script to screen, plus the unique dynamic between its two young protagonists, and how his project will help parents and educators to understand the problems that can often propel vulnerable adolescents to resort to violence.
Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What (and/or who) inspired you to make the film, and how did Jim Shepard’s book Project X (upon which And Then I Go is based) influence the way you approached the process of making the movie?
Vincent Grashaw (director, And Then I Go): I was approached to direct it. I didn’t get to live with the material for too long, unfortunately. The producers had gotten the film financed after several years. It’s just one of those very difficult films to get made, considering the subject matter (school violence, bullying, the difficulties of adolescence).
When I read the material, that’s what basically drew me to directing And Then I Go. It had a fresh, unique perspective unlike any other films that tackled this subject before. This was a very unique sort of take, and a risky one at that; putting yourself in the head space of two kids that have this on their mind.
The book had compassion and sympathy for everyone involved, and that was a way of humanizing the characters, which made it special. As dark as this subject matter is, the book came with this sense of levity and humor that surprised me, which I thought was important to translate into this film. That was something we all really felt was important, and (that’s) what made the movie special.
Were there any real differences between the book and the movie itself?
Grashaw: It was very close, but you’re going to lose scenes or special moments that I would have loved to have in there. You have a novel, and then you have a 90 minute film, so inherently, you’re cutting stuff out. You can’t keep everything, unfortunately, but the script was very close to the book.
And Then I Go played at the Louisiana International Film Festival on the same weekend of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings and the National School Walkout. How did that, along with the fact that the Parkland, Florida school shooting took place in February of 2018, impact the effectiveness and importance of this film?
Grashaw: It just goes to show that we have a movie here that’s timely, topical and relevant now more than ever. It (school shootings) is still an issue that keeps happening, All these things have been happening since ’99, and before that, as well, but Columbine was a game changer in terms of how the media covered it, and in the sort of the responses that we find very familiar today. In the past, you’d have financiers and people freaking out and running away from a film like this when these actual tragedies occur.
We didn’t purposefully release the film at the Louisiana International Film Festival on the weekend of the national (gun safety) walkout, and of the anniversary of Columbine. That wasn’t planned. We didn’t know that was going to happen, obviously, but in a way that kind of justifies what we’re trying to do with this film. Ultimately, we’re really hoping that this movie can help the discussion, because we do think it’s an important perspective.
One of the things I was so moved by from the book was that it refused to classify kids who do this (school shootings) as just “monsters” or mentally ill without really getting to the bottom of how (the tragedies) occurred. Usually, we just see the aftermath. We see their names all over the place in the aftermath; we see people crying and hugging. You don’t really ever get to the stuff that happens previous; the lead-up. If anything, I think the timeliness of And Then I Go shows.
In the film, I don’t even think Edwin knows whether things are going to happen or not. He’s just got so many things on his shoulders. His emotions are constantly back and forth with it, contemplating. This kid has outlets. Art is an outlet. He has other people who are trying to help him, (while he considers the risks of) betraying his closest friend that he’s known since he was 5 years old.
The power of friendship at that age, and what it can hold over you, is interesting. Friendships mold who you are while growing up, and if you had a friend like Flake, I think it validates the path that these two end up taking in the film. It makes sense, in a sad, tragic and scary way.
From watching the film, it’s like Flake is the only kid Edwin can turn to with his problems, because he’s so reluctant to actually tell his parents what’s really going on.
Grashaw: Flake almost even bullies Edwin, at times. They have this sort of back-and-forth, busting each other’s balls relationship. Yet, they can relate to each other on a lot of what they go through. It’s a very powerful thing.
Talk about how And Then I Go contributes to the ongoing conversation about how America can address the problems of bullying and school violence.
Grashaw: Well, I think the film shows a side that may be uncomfortable to embrace and view for some people, but I believe to get to the bottom of any issue you have to look within. This film forces you into their headspace to try and understand what can lead someone at such a young age to violence. We aren’t saying that we have the answers to this problem.
My honest opinion is that these answers lie within everyone. Parents, teachers, kids themselves, law enforcement. We don’t take a political stance by any means. These are simple, practical things that can solve a lot of problems; the first of them being treating each other better.
What do you hope people will take away from watching And Then I Go?
Grashaw: My hope is that people will look deeper into things going on with our youth. Our film explores the idea that kids who turn to violence may also be likely the product of something far more relatable than mental illness. Accepting that is a first step and may be a good place to start when researching this issue.
And Then I Go’s trailer can be seen here: