It is a statistical inevitability that someone, in a few months time when it comes out on streaming and DVD, will sit on their couch and knit a cute little hat while they watch Kumail Nanjiani’s new buddy-slash-cop-slash-odd couple comedy blockbuster Stuber. And you know what? That’ll be OK. They’ll have a great time, because it’s a funny movie. The chemistry between Nanjiani and co-star Dave Bautista is great. The timing is pitch perfect. The script is decent. I laughed a lot and I am responsible for at least one loud snort in an otherwise respectable darkened room. You should watch it. But I hope we are reaching a point in America where it will be just a little weird to knit and scroll through instagram and eat pizza rolls on the couch while this movie is on the TV, because it involves a lot of shooting. Like, a lot of gunfire. Are we still OK with this? It’s time to check in with one another.
People die in this movie. They die hard, painful, terrifying deaths involving acute shock and the extreme loss of blood–which is what happens when a person is shot in the lungs, legs, shoulders, heart, head, stomach, liver, and so on. We don’t see it in the movies, but we should know by now that most of the time people who are shot take a long time to die. They gasp and struggle. If they haven’t passed out from the shock, they moan and cry and try to cling to life. They shit in their clothes. They frequently gurgle from blood in the throat. It’s fucking terrible. No one who witnesses it can ever leave it behind, and it happens a lot in this movie.
Our movies, even the cute buddy comedies with a happy ending, continue to pass right over the hard reality of death by gunshot. Dozens, sometimes hundreds of humans–people who took their first steps, who enjoyed cookies and cakes, who scratched dogs behind the ears, who cried and loved and listened to music, even if they were bad people–die horrible deaths in pictures, and we rarely give them a second thought as the bodies pile up on the screen. They just fall dead, and the story moves on. But as we deal with the increasingly heavy toll of gun violence in the United States, it’s clearer than ever before that it’s not that easy. The dead will always be part of the story. This is why we have ghost stories. To quote the title of another recent film, the dead don’t die. They haunt us. They haunt their killers. They leave people behind. There’s no such thing as a completely happy ending if people had to die to get there.
To its credit, Stuber at least tries to deal with this. Nanjiani’s character, Stu, is never really OK with violence. He cries and vomits; he screams after a gunfight. But the basic premise of the movie is this: he needs to toughen up, while his hard-boiled counterpart, Victor, needs to soften up. They go through an extremely difficult situation together, and at the end both of them have grown. After a six-hour ordeal, Stu–who, spoiler alert, ends up shot in the shoulder–has overcome his insecurities and learned to be clear with others about what he wants from life. Victor–who also, you guessed it, has been shot in the shoulder by the end of the night–has learned to show some affection to the people he cares about. Stu gets a girl. Victor gets a dog. It’s not clear who cleans up the bodies or which funerals Stu and Victor will attend, but everyone is happy.
So, then, is Stuber trying to tell us that it’s OK for people to die horrible, bleeding deaths if the people who survive get to be a little more self-actualized in the end? Probably not. But while we struggle, as ever, with the horrible toll of gun violence, it should be weird that we could walk away from the movie with that interpretation. It felt weird to me. It should be weird that we can sit on the couch and knit a cute little hat while people die on the screen, over and over again, and it doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t it? Are we OK yet?