American Tragedy Documentary Review, Columbine and a Mental Health Discussion

The Columbine massacre in 1999 was my first exposure to the grim reality of life that it can be both short and horrific. The documentary American Tragedy delivers a somewhat unique take on the events of April 20, 1999. Rather than just share the story, we get an important film about mental health and how important it is.

American Tragedy’s main focus is on the Columbine shooting from the point of view of Sue Klebold, the mother of shooter Dylan Klebold. This gives American Tragedy the kind of perspective that’s rare. Her openness to discuss what went wrong with her son and the warning signs can only come from a woman who has lived the life she has.

From a filmmaking perspective, is this something worth watching?

What was good about American Tragedy

You’ve probably figured it out already, but this was definitely a good documentary worth watching. Whether the topic of school shootings is something you’re fascinated by or not, mental health is a topic we can all learn more about.

Coming out nearly two decades after the massacre Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris engaged in, there is more discussion about events taking place thereafter. Other terrifying incidents with a similar outcome are examined and how the parents of other school shooters either did or didn’t have the signs right in front of them.

The film doesn’t glorify violence. Despite coming from the mother of one of the killers, it doesn’t even make him out to be something that he isn’t. American Tragedy is a first look about a topic few people will discuss. It doesn’t try to answer any of the questions. Instead, I felt like this documentary’s focus was to remind us all it’s a discussion we need to start.

This was a very emotional documentary. If you or someone you know has had mental health issues, you’re guaranteed to feel the same way.

What could have made American Tragedy better

Rather than rehash what took place at Columbine, this documentary does the smart thing and focuses on what preventative measures or signs people can look for. Even if you’re not someone who is closely related to someone with mental health issues, it affects us all.

I would have liked to hear from parents, relatives, or close friends of people connected to school shooters. Klebold seemed like the warning signs came closer in life and very quickly. Once known by his parents, he was intelligent enough to hide his depression while masterminding one of America’s ongoing issues with gun violence. The film does try to point toward what people can look for, however, I didn’t feel like there was much of a solution offered or enough perspectives.

Multiple episodes on this topic would have greatly expanded on the subject. Something about the access to guns or parents who failed their kids (it doesn’t seem like Sue is one of them) could have made for an interesting part of this subject matter.

Is American Tragedy worth watching?

Especially today as I post this, on the anniversary of the event, it’s definitely worth your time. I’ve known about this documentary for a few years yet never felt very inspired to watch it. Something told me to give it a try. I’m glad I did. This isn’t your typical documentary covering an event. The titular American Tragedy is less about the Columbine school shooting and far more about how people who need help either don’t get it or have no access. This leads to more problems.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

This documentary has a lot to say and it says it well. There are no twists or surprises along the way. It does what it is supposed to do and that’s to remind us all that we have a lot of work to do as  a society.

2 thoughts on “American Tragedy Documentary Review, Columbine and a Mental Health Discussion

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  1. Similarly, the book _Why Meadow Died_, by Andrew Pollack (father of one of the Parkland victims) discusses the many warning signs that were ignored in that mass killer.


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