A sinister but nuanced exploration of an age-old American problem.
What if you could make a gun that was unregistered, invisible, and untraceable? What do you think a kid would do with a gun like that? Travis Andrade’s WESLEY brings a new American perspective on an old American problem: gun control. Seen through the eyes of Wesley (James Sandler), an 11-year-old boy in middle-class America, this 15-minute short is a surprisingly disturbing exploration into the cultural psychology of the American youth. WESLEY has gained international acclaim, having won an award at the Manchester International Film Festival and was screened at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, as it allows a global audience to empathise with a provocative, hot-button American issue.
With additive manufacturing becoming more accessible and affordable, it was only a matter of time before the ability to use a 3D printer in the comfort and quiet of your own home brought darker ramifications. Blake (Johnathan Irwin), a friend of Wesley’s brother who is on medication for anxiety, flaunts what is called a ‘ghost gun’, an unregistered gun with no serial number which cannot be traced. This is a micro-problem that only adds to the macro-problem of American culture, but is nonetheless one that is acknowledged on a state-by-state basis.
Wesley’s admiration of Blake’s ghost fun causes the film to take a more sinister turn as we are taken into Wesley’s classroom daydream which takes a sinister turn. As the film ends, Wesley snaps out of his fantasy of running into Blake in the act of a school shooting and briefly smiles to himself. Andrade definitely leaves us with more questions than answers.
The fixation on guns is prevalent from the beginning to the end of the film, including the imitation of shooting firearms. From plastic toy guns to paintballing on the weekends and violent video games, Wesley is constantly surrounded by a glorified and unquestioned representation of guns. Luckily, this film pursued a direction that I didn’t expect. Andrade doesn’t shine an interrogation lamp on Wesley’s older brother playing violent games and halfheartedly concluding that this is the problem and if we fix that, we can fix all problems surrounding guns.
Instead, Andrade gives us a much bigger picture of America’s obsession with guns through a comprehensive deep-dive into one child’s life. WESLEY doesn’t set out to answer questions so much as ask them: what are the ramifications of gun culture on a child’s mind? What goes through a kid’s mind when he’s killing time by himself? However, rather than just portraying middle-America gun culture, Andrade brings attention to new, pressing developments surrounding gun control and how that would affect the mind of a boy.
It takes creative resilience to avoid using one issue as a crutch when exploring a nuanced topic. All too often we see mental health, video games, and ghost guns as scapegoats for the overarching problem: what is the obsession with guns in America? In WESLEY, all these aspects intermingle with each other and give us a grounded representation of a young boy’s mindset as he navigates through a gun-fixated world. How can we be surprised when he eventually fantasises about real-world violence?
Overall, Andrade does a brilliant job of gathering a myriad of aspects to a complicated issue and encouraging the viewer to ask questions, rather than pushing the viewer to reach a certain answer. Hopefully, we will see more short films like this that open up discussions rather than attempting to settle them once and for all.