“The first thing you probably want to know is all that stuff about my dad and what he did to my mom and me, and all; the whole goddamn childhood. But I’m not gonna tell you any of that stuff. That stuff isn’t important. Not anymore.”
That’s part of the introduction to the film “Chapter 27”, a dissection of the culminating days leading to the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman, told from the perspective of the killer. Thirty years ago, or maybe even 15 years ago, this movie couldn’t have been made. It was finally brought to the screen in 2007 and starred Jared Leto (who gained 67 pounds to play Chapman). “Chapter 27” refers to an imaginary chapter in the book “The Catcher in the Rye”, which was the book Chapman was found with when he was captured for the murder. On the insert of the book, it was written: “To Holden, From Holden; This is my statement.” There are 26 chapters in the actual book. What chapter 27 would be is what Chapman considers the real final act of what Holden must do in his life, which is to actually kill one of the phonies that plague the world.
Of course, all of this is in Chapman’s head. The book itself is more of a study of adolescence and self-righteousness that goes along with it. It’s a depiction of a phony in Holden himself. But Chapman doesn’t interpret it correctly, and thinks of Holden as a hero. In real life, Chapman wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield.
But as the narrator states in the beginning of the film, this isn’t about Chapman’s life. It’s simply about his devolution into madness, and we are but voyeurs along for the ride. It begins with him coming back to New York after having visited before and failed to reach John Lennon, one of his early heroes when he was with The Beatles. Chapman at this time lives in Hawaii, and while you’d think that’d be a place in which no person could ever lose their mind, he certainly has started to.
If you read up on Chapman’s life, you’ll find out why. But you won’t from just watching this film. He starts to mimic actions Holden takes when he ventured into the city in the book. He checks into a low brow hotel, he hires a prostitute, he goes to a carousel. But all the while, Chapman is planning on murdering John Lennon. He buys a gun, and hides it. He waits all day and night at the Dakota, the apartment building John Lennon lives in. He does come into contact with others while he’s there, including a pretty young fan named Jude (played well by Lindsay Lohan). She encourages him to buy Lennon’s new album, “Double Fantasy”, and to have him sign it. He does this, and all the while, he starts having fantasies about being the Catcher in the Rye, thinking he has to save the world by killing an important phony like John Lennon. He reads an interview with Lennon which deepens his hatred for him.
In the final moments of Chapman waiting for Lennon to return to the apartment after he had left with his entourage to go to a studio, he fights with himself and voices in his head. “He’s mine,” a voice reminds him. While we all know the outcome anyway, there is an actual journey that Chapman takes in this film throughout his time in New York. He begins with a plan, then rethinks it, then almost abandons it–but his loneliness and depression and paranoia consumes him in the end. What we’re left with is a person who has lost himself, and takes John Lennon’s life along with his.
Chapman is still in prison, and will most likely never be paroled (he was up for parole first in 2001). According to the film’s caption at the end, he is a born again Christian. During the film we do learn that he was living as a Christian as well. He had a wife, and he carried a Bible with him wherever he went as well.
While we don’t find out much about Chapman’s personal life through the film, it’s not really about that. But just like Holden, Chapman reveals himself to be a bit of a phony himself. Really, ultimately this film is about a dissension into madness, losing grip on reality, and building a fantasy world to live in. Chapman’s delusions about being the Catcher are almost parallel with the character of Holden Caulfield’s, and just as misdirected.
Because of the style of the film, I was reminded a bit of Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days”, which depicted the final days of a fictional version of Kurt Cobain. That film, however, never really let you into the character’s mind and we were left with a very vague (and mostly boring) meandering film that was nearly impenetrable. Thanks to a brilliant performance by Leto, and key inner narrative provided in voice-overs, we figure out why Chapman is falling apart. One key moment in the climactic scene where Chapman waits for Lennon’s return from the studio (after successfully receiving his autograph), he tries to coax a paparazzi photographer (played by Judah Friedlander) to stay with him until Lennon comes back. You think to yourself, “If this guy just would’ve stayed with him, Lennon may have lived.” Chapman is left by himself, however, and that’s when he finally decides to go through with it. Not that we blame the photographer for leaving–would you want to hang out with Mark David Chapman? About ten minutes into the film, you’ll know your answer.
The filmmaker, Jarrett Schaefer, is not defending Chapman, nor condoning what he did. If anything, the message of the film is simple: when a person cannot identify who they are anymore, they will invent a persona that will ultimately control them. In this case, when he loses control of himself, he is taken control of something else that drives him to murder. In all cases of psychosis, this is typical. Do we learn anything new about it? No.
But “that’s not important”. But it is still pretty interesting.