That’s the question that is posed but never answered in Dana Perry’s extraordinary new documentary, “Boy Interrupted,” that is being screened at the Bantam Cinema Saturday at noon, in advance of its TV premiere on HBO Aug. 3.
Evan Perry left behind a lucid suicide note on his laptop computer before he jumped to his death from his family’s New York City apartment in 2005. The boy’s commitment to killing himself was spelled out in a shockingly cool style but the act was at odds with the bright, witty and charismatic teen loved by family and friends.
In recent years, there has been a wave of quite amazing books written by major literary figures about fresh catastrophes in their lives — including Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” and Christopher Buckley’s “Losing Mum and Pup.” But I can’t recall another case in which an artist has tried to come to terms with a tragedy through the use of a filmmaker’s tools.
Perry puts herself and her family on the line in “Boy Interrupted.”
By going into a public arena with such sensitive material, she has opened herself up to charges of exploitation — Didion faced the same thing after the first wave of positive press for “Magical Thinking.”
I think most viewers will find value and unusual intelligence in the documentary, however. The mystery of what is really going on under the surface with a troubled friend or a loved one applies to all of us, whether or not we’ve known a suicide.
“Boy Interrupted” also leaves a viewer wondering what sort of help can be given to someone who is depressed from earliest childhood.
The movie is grueling but that may be partly due to the fact that we are so unused to having such primal material dealt with in public. “Boy Interrupted” also works as a memorial to a kid who was clearly special to a wide circle of people who will never understand what happened to him.
(The noon screening Saturday at the Bantam Cinema will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker. For more information, go to www.bantamcinema.com)