Movie provides sobering message

By Dennis Minich

For a few weeks last spring, there was a flurry of activity in and around the old Cass County Jail. The old building on Pearl Street had recently received a new coat of paint, but other than that had been dormant for years. In a sudden burst of activity, people were coming and going. People in orange jumpsuits were walking around town talking on cellphones. People stood at the door, not to keep people in, but to keep those outside quiet.

The building was being used to represent what it had once been: a jail. A local production company using the location to make a motion picture. Harrisonville was chosen as the location of the movie because the jail was available. I did not realize some scenes were shot elsewhere in town, including a crime reenactment at Discount Smokes and Liquor.

The final product was revealed last week when a premier screening was held in Overland Park, Kansas. I had the opportunity to attend the screening and many thanks were given to Obie Carl and his family for making the jail available. There were also screen credits offering thanks to the Harrisonville Police Department. Other than that, you would not know the setting was Harrisonville. It really could have taken place anywhere because the premise of the movie was a prisoner living out a 25-year sentence in jail. Most of the movie takes place in the eight-foot by 10-foot cell in which the prisoner lives. The working title of the movie had been “Solitary,” but since another movie is already carrying that moniker, it was changed to “Solitary Confinement.

I will admit I went to the movie totally expecting to hate it, and for many reasons. First, the reason for prisons is for punishment. You don’t put people in prison for being nice and good and anything implicating heroics is misguided. Secondly, the whole plotline sounded incredibly dark and eerie. Finally, how much action can you have with virtually all of the action centered on person the whole time. All three of those expectations came true, except, I walked away not hating the movie, but appreciating the message the director was presenting.

There were no attempts to make crime and criminals anything more or less than what they are. There was no entertainment value, this was indeed a dark and intense film that never offered anything close to a lighter moment. And finally, it was possible for one man to carry most of the 110-minute film, because we were watching his world and his thoughts and his actions, good and bad. There was no happy ending. There was a lot of realism. I must say that after watching the movie I did some soul searching. And while I don’t think I now feel softer on crime, I do have a new-found sense of concern about how easily society can take away the humanity from others. It’s a concept I read about in college about how people could easily turn against others, but it was much different seeing how it was presented.

In the opening sequence, the movie states that at any given time, between 60,000 and 100,000 individuals are in solitary confinement in prisons in this country. The director, Dylan Welter, also wrote the movie and he said every event depicted was as described by inmates or former inmates from various prisons.

“It’s some version of the same story,” Welter said. “Time ceases to have any meaning. No matter what kind of life you once led, it is over once you enter that room.”

He said it was important to tell the story because so many people had talked about COVID quarantining being like solitary confinement.

“It’s not the same,” he said.

I thought about writing a review about the movie, but I don’t know what to say that doesn’t reveal every twist in the movie. Besides, I doubt it is the type of film many members of the movie-going public are going to run out and plop money down to see. Welter said it was going to be entered into several film festivals and by early next year he hopes it is either released theatrically or on a streaming service. I hope it makes it to the big screen so maybe more people will see it. It was certainly thought-provoking, which I think was Welter’s intent.