‘The Fallout’: untold stories of students after a shooting

The Fallout poster

Fair use image by HBO Max

The Fallout is a film about the unseen faces of a tragedy. Putting a spotlight on those who are unable to turn their pain into positive change, the director focus’ on three teenagers as they navigate this confusing journey in a world where they don’t feel normal anymore.

Maya Disher, Photography and Public Relations Editor

From age five to eighteen, a kids’ job is to be a student. Students spend eight hours a day, 5 days a week, 23 weeks a year, “working” in a building called a school. For 165 days a year, parents send their kids to school believing they are safe. What if during one of the weeks, for one day, 1/64th of the eight hours, students did not feel safe? What if those 20 minutes affect them for the rest of their high school career? 5 years later? 10 years? life?

On Jan. 27, HBO Max released a new movie directed by Megan Park called The Fallout. This movie depicts the lives of students who experience a school shooting. 

Throughout the movie, viewers watch as a student named Vada, played by Jenna Ortega, struggles with PTSD from the shooting. Self-isolated from her family, Vada turns to her friends Mia and Quinton, played by Maddie Ziegler and Niles Fitch, for emotional support.

“[This movie] kinda came out of frustration of the situation for young people in America,” Park said in an interview with Kristan Maldando. “I was pretty nervous to take a stab at it. I felt like I was Canadian and hadn’t experienced this or been through something like this so I was worried about getting it right.”

Finding a balance between emotionally informing and emotionally triggering was a fine line for Park and the actors. With such an intense focus, Park did an immense amount of research to help her more accurately write the characters.

Each character was created to show how teens respond and cope with these events. The notable behavioral changes and coping mechanisms depicted are isolation, nightmares, insomnia, PTSD, therapy and substance abuse. 

“Drugs are pretty much the easiest way [for teens] to cope in general,” senior Soren Gabor, student council member, said. “And unfortunately, they are highly accessible and easy to come by.”

Nearly 40% of high school students around the nation struggle with mental health. Once those students graduate, about 60% of them have participated in substance abuse.

Park, unintentionally, showed how students who experience trauma receive a lack of support from school. Vada has a hard time returning to school because of the trauma she endured. Neglecting the disconnect students show, school jumps back into their normal routines without hesitation.

Sixty-six percent of public schools and 32% of private schools in the nation do not have counselors available for students. While the 34% of public and 68% of private do, majority focus exclusively on college and academic advising.

Assistant Principal Shelly Phernetton advocates for mental health among students. Having counselors for students to go to for help with mental health creates an environment where students feel safe and heard.

Phernetton also spoke about the lack of knowledge teachers and administrators have on signs of struggle. Teachers spend an hour each day with these students. They know them better than any other adult in school. As important it is for the counselors to recognize signs, teachers need to be able to recognize them as well.

Phernetton explained how the more people who can recognize the signs, the sooner they can “wrap around that individual with support and resources.”

Faculty being able to recognize the signs a student is struggling is only one of the steps. Along with providing them with support, schools need to provide the them with the necessary resources. Having programs such as peer mentoring, ALC and Wellness Center creates outlets for students to relive stress.

Naomi Herr, a freshman on student council, stated how the majority of freshman do not know about the ALC or Wellness Center. She believes the problem is not the lack of school resources, but the lack of knowledge these resources exist. Promoting the programs to the students, not only informs the students of these resources, but informs them their mental health is important to the school.

Transitioning to the end of the movie, Park shared the most important piece of research she found.

The support Vada received from her friends pulled her out of the isolation she had stuck herself in. Beginning to feel normal again, Vada decided to give school another shot. She started to feel that she was over the trauma and anxiety of the shooting.

Can anyone actually “get over” their emotions though?

Vada returns to school and something triggers every emotion she thought she was over. Unable to continue being at school, Vada leaves, and that’s the end.

The purpose of The Fallout was to show how mental health and emotions are inevitable human attributes. Feelings reside in the memory of the time. As time goes on, that memory fades, becoming less apparent. But it will never disappear. Park wanted people to understand that feelings and trauma might take a year, 5 years, maybe 10 years to fade, but it will never disappear.

Park did an impeccable job portraying and sharing the lives of students who have to face these types of events. She was able to share and accurately depict the and issues students face when struggling with PTSD, while the actors were able to beautifully bring Parks visions to life.

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Maya Disher, Photographer and Public Relations

I am Maya Disher, a Junior at Stillwater Area High School. I am a photographer and work on the public relations staff. I am a dancer on the Stillwater...