At Your Disposal, Written by Aaron Wileman
At Your Disposal presents an important, if simple, moral statement about gun violence in America. It attempts to direct attention away from the media’s sensationalist stories of violence and highlight the banal choices made by ordinary Americans that lead to extraordinary human tolls.
Jane is an upper-middle-class suburban housewife in Miami, where she lives with her husband Phil and their ten-year-old son Charlie. An unfortunate interaction between Jane’s friend, Holly, and a violent driver wielding a tire iron precipitates a conversation about guns at a dinner party. Holly insists that she was able to walk away unscathed thanks to her pistol, which she always keeps concealed in her handbag. Her husband chimes that it gives her confidence. Each couple agrees that the other is wrong: Phil argues that no person has the right to take someone else’s life. ‘I’m not killing anyone’, Holly insists, ‘But I would use it to stop someone if I had to’. Jane poses a chilling scenario: ‘What if Jack [Holly’s son] gets his hands on it from your purse one day’. ‘That won’t happen’, she responds, ‘I keep it well guarded’. Holly poses another scenario: ‘But Jane, what would you do if there was a guy trying to rape you’. Jane considers the question, but she doesn’t respond.
Everything changes when Jane has a violent experience of her own. A serial thief robs her at gunpoint, taking her purse along with her car. Almost immediately, her opinion on guns shifts: ‘I don’t feel safe anymore’, she tells Phil. ‘I want to get a gun.’ Things quickly spiral out of control in the aftermath of Jane’s attack, and with the purchase of her own gun, she makes real her worst fears.
The purpose of the screenplay is overtly moral, and the plot is driven almost entirely by an overlying political message, summarised by the film’s final, superimposed statements:
Each year more than 450,000 people are injured by a firearm and in excess of 30,000 people die from accidental or intentional gun usage in the USA.
Two-thirds of gun related deaths in the USA each year are from suicide.
Approximately 500 children each year die from gun related deaths, the vast majority of these accidental.
Over 300 million guns in civilian hands make these deaths possible.
This are stunning statistics, but unfortunately, the film suffers from its exclusive focus on its political message. The characters become simpler than human – two-dimensional – and so does the story. Jane says things like, ‘It’s any wonder there is so much violence in the world today’ in response to the violence of Charlie’s videogames – a comment which sounds like it comes from a screenwriter rather than from Jane herself. There is nothing really interesting about the characters: they are perfectly ordinary members of the American upper middle class, and their indistinct personalities actually make them outlines of characters into which the viewer can insert themself and their own family. The characters are uninteresting in themselves, but they are useful as vehicles for the expression of a moral statement – directed at a white, upper-middle-class audience.
The plot is correspondingly formulaic and predictable. If the purpose of the film is to serve as a public service announcement, then it succeeds. The progression of events is simple, the characters are dimensionless, and the moral of the story drives everything forward. The problem is that the engine of morality usually fails to drive a good story. These characters and their stories exist only in the service of the film’s greater message, and while a good story can have a moral backbone and a purpose, in this case we get the moral without the story; instead of real characters, we get talking points. As a public service announcement, At Your Disposal is serviceable. But it is not art. ■
Length: 30 pages
Genre: Short, Screenplay
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The author of this screenplay is Aaron Wileman, an independent writer and film industry consultant based in Paris. At Your Disposal is his first screenplay. Learn more about this film from its page on Facebook.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: iStock.com/LiliGraphie.