I wanted to watch this movie because, in a weird coincidence, I happened to walk by the Dakota the night John Lennon was shot. At the time I was a senior in high school visiting New York for a few days, feeling a lot like my imagination of Holden Caufield. "John Lennon got shot," the police said. I went to Central Park for the public memorial. Some people were sad, but many others were excited, as if they were taking part in a giant happening. The atmosphere was hardly funereal, something you can see in the stock footage of the scene. I was disgusted and left. "Phonies," I thought.
The movie gets a lot of things right. The preppy clothes, the look of New York, the bad food, the awkward dialogall this brought back memories of feeling young and alienated. It also succeeds in its allusions to "The Catcher in the Rye" and even "Lolita," where Chapman could just as easily have been Humbert Humbert at the end. The acting is quite good, and the direction, though flawed, succeeds more often than not.
Most interesting to me was the concept. Many reviewers feel disappointed that we don't understand the mind of the killer by the end. But that's the point. There's nothing to understand. The relation between fans and artists is much like the relation between youth and age, or poor and rich, or even mobs and leaders. In the first instance, there is sensitivity that this powerless and derivative, and in the second, there is sensitivity that is assured and original. The former condition, as Salinger, Nabokov, and my own memory of adolescence contend, is basically Hell. The main character never escapes this condition: consider his book inscription. From this perspective the movie is less an exploration of his motivation, which is causal and developmental, than a description of his emotional state, which is static and permanent. This is suggested by the structure of the narrative, which follows the circularity of Salinger's novel.
Viewers will have to decide for themselves whether the movie pulls off the larger metaphor, namely, that America itself has never escaped the nightmare of adolescence. If you want to see the disintegration of a lonely loser, "The Assassignation of Richard Nixon" is a better movie. But "Chapter 27" is smarter than it appears.
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