Testimony of one-time school shooting plotter helps us understand problem, says maker of One World film White Rage

Arto Halonen, photo: Ian Willoughby

“I’m always a potential killer,” says “Lauri”, the unseen narrator of the Finnish film White Rage, one of the highlights of this year’s One World festival of human rights documentaries. The term white rage refers to the mind-set behind the cold planning of atrocities and the narrator recounts how he himself plotted a massacre at his school after being bullied for many years. Fortunately Lauri – who wrote an anonymous article about his experiences in a top Finnish magazine – didn’t carry through his bloody plans. From his narration it appears he is some kind of expert on extreme behaviour, so I asked White Rage’s director Arto Halonen what exactly he does.

Arto Halonen,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“In the Finnish language we call it ‘academic researcher’. He’s a scholar who’s been teaching and lecturing around the world about violence and aggressive behaviour.

“We didn’t want to be clearer. We just wanted to say that he’s an academic, he’s successful and he’s working in that area.

“It’s a small circle, you understand, and it’s a very strange circle also – people working in this area. We didn’t want to make it so easy for his colleagues to recognise him.”

Essentially he is somebody who had fantasies and tendencies towards extreme violence and carrying out massacres but overcame them and is now helping people to avoid finding themselves in the same situation. What do you think is the value of his testimony in your film?

“There’s a lot of value. As you mentioned, even if somebody has the feelings and fantasies like that, and is almost ready to do things like that, it can be cured.

White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“There could be a new way and you can really overcome those fantasies in some cases.

“That’s why I really like Lauri’s story. Because he never did those things and now he’s really helping.

“He really takes care of us on this planet, even though there was a situation where he didn’t feel would be part of us.

“I think it’s encouraging for those people who have fantasies like that.

“And of course his story, because he can analyse it very carefully, very analytically, it can really show people how we are creating monsters.

“It also shows what our responsibility in that is. In that sense, you know, it puts more responsibility on individual human beings, how we behave in front of each other.

“Because we can really influence what makes people like Lauri. That’s the only way. We should control what we’re doing and help those people – not drive them into a situation like that.”

The film is very interesting from the formal point of view. You use re-enacted, stylised scenes and you also have his original voiceover, his narration. Was that the only possible approach you could see to making the film, or did you think about doing it some other way?

White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“I was thinking it was better that we didn’t bring in his name, or his face, because then journalists and the whole media would be running in different directions and the topic wouldn’t be so clear any more.

“After I realised that was the situation I just wanted to find the right way, visually and in terms of narration to tell the story.

“Also in my past filmmaking career I’ve done both fiction and documentaries and I’ve done films where I’ve mixed those things.

“So for me it’s very natural and it’s also something that I like to do. I see it as a movie – not that this is this category and that is that category.

“And this was a good chance to use both elements”

There are some scenes that are kind of action scenes, where he’s fantasizing about revenge. We also see him in the forest swinging a sword around and shooting. There’s pounding music, it’s kind of like a music video. Did you ever fear that you could make violence attractive in the film?

Linus Tuomenvirta - 'Lauri',  White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“I would say that I was concerned about that in some moments. I was aware regarding this forest scene that somebody would feel like that.

“On the other hand, I was trying to get inside of his mind. And in the total story it doesn’t look attractive.

“But there is an attraction in violence, in the human mind. There is a certain kind of link between the human being and violence, though people don’t want to talk about that.

“But people want to watch violent movies. And they want to make them.

“It’s somehow a very weird and strange connection and I think this is something people should realise; in order to understand and control our violent part and lead it in the right direction.

“That’s why I wasn’t afraid to also show different elements of violent feelings and how they influence us.”

This guy Lauri suggests that his mentality is affected by the fact that he was bullied a lot as a child and even at university. He also suffered the loss of a parent when he was a child. But a lot of people go through those experiences, sadly. Are we meant to sympathise with him?

“I wouldn’t say to sympathise. But I would say to understand him more. As Lauri himself says, three are roughly three categories of people.

“One, when they are bullied, when they have a history like that, nothing happens.

White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“The second part will get depressed and even commit suicide, in the worst scenario.

“And the third part are like Lauri – they create this white rage.

“We shouldn’t support the wrong way but we should understand. And with understanding we can change things and help people.

“Many people who have watched the movie… some people have gone through similar things but they haven’t ended up having the same feelings like Lauri.

“But there has been some similarity – which has touched people a lot.

“Because they can also feel when they go back to those emotions that anything would have been possible if things had gone even further.

“What I’m saying is that in some senses people understand that that’s possible – and that we should do something.”

I thought it was an extremely powerful film. It’s very thought-provoking. But it also made me uncomfortable in the sense that he is the narrator, he’s an expert on the subject, but there are some things that he talks about that for me are not fully explained. Like how he goes from being a Christian kid who doesn’t react to being beaten up to having fantasies about shooting people and even blowing up a train. It makes me uncomfortable as a viewer that the expert voice is talking about that as if it’s normal – but it’s not normal.

White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“Yes, but he doesn’t take it as normal either. He knows his problems. He’s just describing his real way of thinking.

“He’s the kind of character that none of his colleagues would ever believe that he was the kind of person that had or would have those thoughts.

“In that sense it’s important to show. Because white rage is something you cannot recognise in other people.

“It doesn’t show. You can be great in school, you can be great in any area, but you can have those thoughts in his mind.

“He knew that it was those thoughts were wrong, but when it goes deep enough in a certain direction when other people are doing wrong things to you, then you don’t feel any more that you are part of them.

“You can easily feel that you have the right to do this revenge.”

Did the experience of making this film and getting to know Lauri change how you react when you hear about for instance a school shooting, in America or even in Europe?

“I felt since I read the article and I went on this trip together with Lauri… it sounded very logical to me.

White Rage,  photo:  © Art Films Production
“I was bullied at school in my childhood, and that was one of the reasons that I wanted to touch this subject.

“I never had feelings like Lauri. It never went so far, and I had, thank goodness, some friends outside of the school, that I was able to be interesting in this world.

“But I can imagine that if it went a different direction that anything would happen, and it can happen with some people.

“In that sense working with him also connected to my own history.

“And of course always when I see these school shooting cases I’m very sad. Because society hasn’t done enough, they haven’t realised all the factual things enough.

“I feel really bad because a lot of these things could be stopped.

“Of course some of these people are mentally ill people. But as one of the specialists in the film says, two out of three are something else – people who are struggling with their feelings, feelings of anger, of losing something.

“People should be aware of that and do something.”