Fuse News: What Cinema Says About the Boston Marathon Bombing

By Gerald Peary.

A scene from John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday

A movie critic can’t help but tie the Boston Marathon tragedies to the cinema, and so John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday (1977) obviously flashes to mind, in which a Palestinian terrorist group planned a Super Bowl suicide attack at the Orange Bowl. It was foiled by the FBI and combined Israeli and US intelligence. No such luck in Stephen Spielberg’s true-life Munich (2005), chronicling the massacre of Israeli athletes by the radical Muslim Black September group during the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

What goes through the minds of terrorists? You can’t do better than Paradise Now (2005) by Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad, which is a potent narrative film about two Palestinians entering Israel with suicide bombs in their belts, one a zealot, one shaky about the promised Islamic afterlife. And for a homegrown, all-American assassin, there’s Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968), about a Vietnam vet who goes from Texas gun store to shooting down innocents, loosely recreating Charles Whitman’s 1966 bell tower murders at the University of Texas.

Do you wonder at the bizarre action of the Tsarnaev brothers hijacking a car, bragging to the driver about the Marathon killings? Look no further than Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which the Barrow gang steal the auto of Eugene (Gene Wilder) and Velma (Evans Evans), then bring the couple along so they can boast of their criminal exploits.

And here’s a wild theory, trying to understand why so many people, against their better judgment, feel sorry for young Dzhokhar. It’s his doe eyes, people! They radiate innocence. Like Bambi! Put the two together, and see what I mean.

As for the universally hated Tamerlan, he’s by appearance an off-putting neo-noir film heavy. Couldn’t he have replaced Michael Madsen as the sadist Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs?

OK, so what film is most akin to most New Englanders’ experience of the Marathon massacre and the aftermath? Here’s my odd candidate: Six Degrees of Separation (1993). We’re all that close to Kevin Bacon and—we’ve all tried to figure out how—that close to rubbing against the Tsarnaev siblings. How’s this? My wife’s younger sister’s ex-boyfriend, Joe, had crossed the finishing line a minute before the first explosion. How’s this? My wife, Amy, drives through downtown Watertown every day on her way to work, and she sighted her ATM on TV near the scene of the shootout.


For many days, I felt shut out from the events, having been sequestered in a film editing room at the time of the Marathon and being away in Wisconsin for the MIT shooting. But yesterday, in the middle of a Saturday afternoon deep snooze, I was awakened by a phone call, and The Connection.

“Gerald Peary? Professor of Communications at Suffolk University?” asked a British voice at the other end. “Do you recall a Katharine Russell in your classes?”
“No,” I replied.
“Are you sure? I’m calling from England. I’m a reporter for the Daily Mail.”
“What does she look like?” I asked, still very groggy.
“She has mousy hair.”
“Hmmm. And why are you calling?”
The reporter giggled with glee. “She is married to the Marathon bomber.”
Yikes! My eyes opened: Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife was a student of mine??????
Well, I looked through my rosters, and no Katharine Russell. And no memory of her. The much-disappointed reporter hung up.

But what if I had remembered her? What would I have said? Hopefully nothing, because the more wide awake I became, the more I became aware of the Daily Mail. Oh, Lord! This was not the Guardian at the other end of the line but one of London’s sleaziest, sub-literate tabloids. I had been conversing with a lizard, he capable of a story like “Says Her Professor: Bomber Babe in Suffolk Love Nest.” Kevin Bacon would deny our connection!


  1. Jackie Sand on April 23, 2013 at 5:40 am

    You clearly made a connection to something so many of us have been doing- sharing the horrific events with friends and family and making those connections of 6 degrees of separation: I’ve been doing it, friends in Chicago have been doing it via e-mail (my daugher’s ex-roommate’s mother who was RIGHT there got cold and walked into the Prudential mall 2 minutes before the explosion). The stories go on. Why do we feel the need to make these connections?
    Thanks, for writing about it.

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