Long before there was Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown, there was the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Unknown to many (myself included), a shooter opened fire in an engineering school and shot 28 people, killing 14. His rationale recalls that of the 2014 shooter in Santa Barbara: an angry, entitled rage against the feminist ideology that threatens his comfortable dominance.
Denis Villeneuve’s “Polytechnique,” a feature-length reenactment of the events that transpired, makes a worthy exploration into the complex web of issues raised in this shooting. The film correctly places the shooter’s mentality into a larger cultural pattern of misogyny and male hegemony. Words and attitudes do the same damage to the mind and spirit that bullets do to the body.
For example, the masculine supremacist attitudes of the shooter are echoed by an interviewer at one point. When Valérie (Karine Vanasse) goes to apply for an internship in mechanical engineering, the man at the other side of the table register his surprise. It’s harder to raise a family when choosing mechanical over civil engineering, he reminds her. None of this explains the killer. But it does contextualize him.
Though the actual killing rampage is indeed frightening, Villeneuve ensures that we fear a pathology and a set of twisted tenants far more than any isolated violence. The film’s focus on the lasting scars from the realization that such hatred can exist leaves a lingering sensation of unease. While Villeneuve might overload the metaphors on occasion (Picasso’s Guernica painting, a lecture on the dangers of entropy), the overall effect is chilling enough to make this a pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” The fact that he achieves such a sensation in a slender 70 minutes runtime only adds to the wonder.