The RUST Tragedy: A Killing that took place Behind the Camera instead of In Front of It
I live in New Mexico and the film industry here is currently booming. My son works for a caterer employed by one film company. My former daughter-in-law works testing for COVID at another production site. It’s great business for the state. The two get paid well and love their jobs — after all film production crews are like one big happy family.
That’s what makes it especially horrible when a tragedy like the shooting and death of director Halyna Hutchins takes place.
A friend of a friend of mine was on the RUST Production team. He was working in the church building when the shot took place. His friend was so shocked and appalled by the occurrence that even now, weeks later, he can barely speak about the incident. Film production crews are tough — they work hard for long hours under often grueling conditions. But they’re not so tough that they can’t be seriously affected by the accidental shooting and killing of a respected, admired and well-liked colleague.
The irony is that the movie industry pumps out film after film in which someone gets killed. Usually multiple people — in many films there’s killing after killing after killing.
And yet, none of it is real — we barely react when we watch someone being strangled or drowned or gunned down or blown up or knifed or poisoned. It’s so commonplace, we barely blink. Yet when it’s real — when there’s real blood, when someone falls to the floor in pain, when their life is suddenly threatened and the ambulance is called — and later an announcement comes that the person didn’t survive. So it becomes necessary to contact their next of kin — that’s different. That’s devastating — not only to the families but to all who witnessed or came anywhere close to the untimely death.
Killings happen every day in America — not just on film sets. (In fact rarely on film sets — that’s what makes the RUST accident so attention-grabbing.) Yet in some neighborhoods, on some streets in America, murder is a regular, commonplace, unsurprising event. Yet every single one of those killings is as significant as Halyna’s death on the set of RUST. In every case, an individual lost their life — a family lost a father, mother, sister, or brother. Children will grow up without a parent. Parents will grow old mourning their son or daughter.
We Americans say we’re inured to violence — that violence on the movie screen or home monitors or video games played on smart-phones — doesn’t faze us. We claim these brutal scenes have no impact at all. In fact, the ante on the level of violence is being continually upped–our appetite for violence is growing and requires more convoluted types of violence. It doesn’t matter, though, because we tell ourselves it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real.
Only when a killing occurs behind the camera instead of in front of the camera as on the stage of RUST in a flimsy structure designed to resemble a church — then suddenly it’s real — a killing becomes a death becomes a loss becomes a tragedy. We watch Alec Baldwin, clearly shattered by this experience, cry as he describes what happened, as he ponders what could have gone wrong. We see photographs of the lovely director and lament the loss of this talented, hard-working, dedicated individual. We hear of her son and her husband and we grieve for their immense loss.
The truth is we’re not inured to killing — most of us are still pained by death and loss and violence. If we’re not, do we have any claim to being human? Or are we on a par with the leopard leaping on its prey that we see on NATURE or our cat playing with a mouse until the little creature loses the game and perishes. Can we still lay any claim to humanity? Can we differentiate between the violence we witness on the screen and what we experience in our real lives? So far I think the answer is yes — so far we do really still care.
Yet all of us may need to ponder, as Alec Baldwin surely is at this moment, not just how Halyna Hutchins died but why another violent shows was being produced and why a scene of people (good guys or bad) being shot resulted in a real killing, a real death, a genuine tragedy.