DVD Review – The Killing of John Lennon


“Normal kids don’t grow up to shoot ex-Beatles” – The Killing of John Lennon is a disturbingly gritty dramatisation which penetrates the mind of John Lennon’s infamous killer, Mark David Chapman, in the months leading up to the shooting on 8th December 1980.

Written and directed by Andrew Piddington, the film’s tone is set up with a voiceover of Chapman recalling the moment he shot Lennon, as the date of his death flashes up on a black background, his chillingly mumbling voice almost hard to understand.

A lot of the dialogue used in voiceovers is comprised of Chapman’s own words, and are spoken with a great likeness to him – very cold, emotionless and detached. The ‘character’ is shown to be extremely lonely and incomplete, as we see him aimlessly driving around, arguing with his mother, and blaring Beatles’ records as his wife covers her ears in an attempt to sleep. At the start of the film, Chapman is constantly shown driving, however as he arrives in New York, where he knew Lennon was staying in a hotel, he is always shown being driven around – as if it were a symbol for his slow descent into homicidal madness, losing his control. “Something’s going to be happening soon”, says Chapman to a cab driver, with a smile on his face.

The format of the film is reminiscent of a documentary, often showing montages of old videos of Chapman, photos and videos of , and reconstructed footage, which adds to the reality of the film, with its meticulous research very clearly displayed. It also makes the dramatised scenes stand out, as if we are then inside the mind of the killer. A lot of footage is shot in 360-degree pans or a rather nausea-inducing handheld format, as if the following of the protagonist is secretive and exclusive – almost as if we, the audience, are stalking him.

There are a number of beautiful establishing shots of the locations (all surrounding areas of Chapman’s actual residence and around New York City where Lennon was shot), which become much more bleak and dark as the moment looms. The film’s sound varies often, with the mumbling Chapman suddenly cut with gun shots blaring, or a crescendo of sound as the psychotic mind of the killer is delved into. This sometimes means the audience can miss out on occasional lines, but adds to the cinematography of it all.

J. D. Salinger’s book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is a constant motif throughout the film – Chapman’s insanity is juxtaposed with his intent of becoming the “hero” of his beloved story. Whenever he is shown reading or holding the book, it becomes a dream-like sequence with a fast pace, with close-ups of a strangely euphoric Chapman. As the 8th December approaches, the mood becomes quite sickening especially as Chapman hires an escort for the night – in his dingy, harshly-lighted hotel room – in an attempt to emulate Holden Caulfield (protagonist of Salinger’s book), stating that tomorrow will be “a difficult day” for him.

“As soon as I saw that picture, I knew I was going to kill him” – as Chapman looks at pictures of Lennon feeling “enraged”, the audience are given a stark, sudden reminder of the reality this dramatisation is trying to portray – this victim is not purely a fictional ‘character’, but an iconic, celebrated human being. A particularly interesting scene is Chapman purchasing a gun for “protection at home” – the paradoxical brightness, calming music (written by Martin Kiszko and Makana), and friendly shop assistant can’t quite mask the irony of the situation – making one question the gun policy in America.

Jonas Ball’s portrayal of Mark David Chapman has an incredible likeness to it, with his hauntingly subdued mumbling and sadistic smirk covered by a blanket of quiet seriousness, doing justice to the personality of killer without condoning or glorifying his actions. It is, of course, clear that the creators’ aim is not to pardon the killer’s actions, although the intensity of certain scenes, especially the shooting of Lennon and its aftermath, do seem slightly glorified. However this may have been intentional to portray the event through the eyes of Chapman, claiming that it was as though he “was in a movie”.

Undoubtedly more interesting than a documentary, The Killing of John Lennon is really quite thrilling, and with the great deal of research that went into the independently funded film, the audience come away learning a lot about one of the most incomprehensible deaths in pop culture.

Mark David Chapman remains in prison, despite being eligible for parole since 2000. His release has been denied eight times, and his next parole hearing is August 2016.

Jenn Spiers

Genre:crime, drama Distributor:Fabulous Films DVD Release Date: 4th May 2015 (UK)Rating:15 Director: Andrew Piddington Cast: Jonas Ball, Mie Omori, Krisha FairchildBuy:The Killing Of John Lennon [DVD]