At the beginning of God Bless America, before we can see anything, we hear the sound of a baby crying. Is there any other animal, when in its infancy, that makes a sound as maddening to its parents as that of a baby to its human mother and father? And to the next-door neighbor? In any event, the next thing we see is the eye of that neighbor, whose name is Frank, unable to sleep, in part on account of his migraines, but mostly because of the neighbor’s crying baby and their loud television, which is right up against the paper-thin wall next to Frank’s bedroom. But what mostly offends Frank is the overall obnoxious stupidity the emanates from his neighbor’s apartment, some of it coming from the television, and some of it from the mouths of the neighbors themselves, who are inconsiderate and think themselves entitled to do as they please.
Frank says he wants to kill them. But he especially wants to kill the baby. The next thing we see is Frank busting through the door with a 12 gauge, pump shotgun, blasting the television and then the husband. The wife holds up her baby, hoping to enlist his sympathy, but Frank blows it away, leaving nothing behind but an empty-handed, blood-drenched mother as we hear Brahms’ “Lullaby” playing in the background and as we see the look of peace and contentment on Frank’s face. It’s a fantasy, of course, soon interrupted by the sound of a crying baby.
Frank’s whole world is full of people like his neighbors: his fellow workers, his doctor, his ex-wife and daughter, and pretty much everyone on every channel of his television as he continually works the remote. Worst of all is the show “American Superstarz,” featuring guest Steven Clark, singing “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” off-key and with a whiny voice. Ironically, the song asks, “Do you like the things that life is showing you?” He is so awful that he becomes a sensation, someone people love to insult and ridicule. When Frank gets to work, his coworkers are talking about Steven Clark, and he fantasizes about killing them too.
But just before that, he stops to say hello to Karen, the receptionist, who smiles at him and seems friendly. They usually sit together at lunch. He gives her a book that he had told her about, which she seems to appreciate. Later, she walks by Frank’s cubicle and smiles at him, almost flirtatiously. But then Frank is called to the office. Karen has reported him for sending her flowers at her home, and now she doesn’t feel safe working there. He is fired. Then Frank goes to see his doctor, who tells him about his inoperable brain tumor. It has not been a good day.
Actually, the day started off with Frank calling his ex-wife to see about having their daughter Ava spend some time with him, but Ava is a spoiled brat who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Mother and daughter both have long, blond hair. When Frank gets home and starts watching television, there is a show about a horrible, self-centered girl named Chloe, who is about to have her sixteenth-birthday party. She and her mother both have long, blond hair. Then Frank turns off the sound on the television because the phone is ringing. It is Ava. She starts screaming, “I hate Mommy, I hate Mommy,” while we see Chloe on the television in the background, who also seems to be screaming about how she hates her parents because they ruin everything.
Frank takes down his service pistol and starts to commit suicide. But then he has a better idea. He goes to Chloe’s outdoor birthday party and shoots her, as a substitute for killing his own his own daughter. Then his anger gives way to guilt, and he writes a suicide note to Ava, saying she will be better off without him. This ambivalence toward his daughter also shows up in his attitude toward Brad, a policeman that is planning on marrying Frank’s ex-wife. On the one hand, he resents Brad as an interloper who will take his place as husband and father; on the other hand, he doesn’t want to kill Brad because that way he will suffer.
When Frank shot Chloe, a sixteen-year-old girl named Roxie saw him do it and was awed. She manages to find Frank in a hotel room, just as he has put the barrel of his gun in his mouth, and interrupts his plan to commit suicide. For her, Frank has great potential, killing Chloe being just the beginning. She starts jumping up and down on the bed at the thought of going on a killing spree. Frank tells her to quit that, because someone just made that bed. Now, Frank was sitting on that bed when he was about to pull the trigger, which would have gotten his brains and blood all over the bedspread, but suddenly he is worried that Roxie will get the bedspread all wrinkled.
This is just one of many instances in which Frank seems to have a peculiar sense of what is right and wrong. Roxie, on the other hand, is completely amoral. She wants to kill people simply because they are irritating, like twihards, people who give high-fives, and NASCAR fans. But as she slowly brings Frank around to the idea of killing more Chloes, he says it would have to be only those that deserve to die, people that are mean or rude. When she suggests Chloe’s parents, he is persuaded.
They go to the house where Chloe’s parents live. Frank tells Roxie to stay in the car. He knocks on the door, and when it opens, he pushes his way in, announces who he is and shoots the father. His gun jams, and the mother starts running through the house with Frank in pursuit. Suddenly, we see him stop. Roxie had apparently entered the house too and found a butcher knife, which the mother ran right into and is now impaled. Roxie slowly brings the phallic knife upward, and if you didn’t know better, you might think the two women were having sex from what could be looks of ecstasy on their faces. Then the blood from the mother starts squirting all over Roxie like some kind of twisted cumshot.
Frank admits that murdering Chloe’s parents felt pretty good, but he wants Roxie to go back home to her parents. She gets Frank to let her come along by telling him how her mother is a crack whore whose boyfriend rapes Roxie after her mother passes out.
Roxie asks Frank if he thinks she is attractive, but he refuses to answer that question and any others having to do with sex, because she is too young. She asks, “So it’s OK to kill a teenager but not to fuck one?” and Frank answers “Yes.” Now, within the movie, Frank does not have sex with Roxie because she is too young, but from outside the movie it is clear that she was made too young so that they could not have sex, in part to underscore Frank’s peculiar moral code, and in part to keep a heightened sexual tension between them. That sexual tension is reinforced in various ways. To get Frank to sleep in the same bed with her in the hotel room, she puts pillows between them, saying, “The walls of Jericho,” alluding, of course, to It Happened One Night (1934). Later on, they end up on the dance floor together, and she looks good in his arms.
The movie makes it clear that their agenda has nothing to do with politics. When they murder a television commentator, it turns out that in some ways, Frank agreed with the man’s politics while Roxie did not. But that didn’t matter. They killed him because he was rude and offensive. Typical is their killing of the man who deliberately took up two parking spots. And then there is the classic scene in which they shoot people in a movie theater for talking on their cell phones.
Frank finds out that he was misdiagnosed, that he does not have a brain tumor. And then he finds out that Roxie came from a normal family and had normal problems for a teenage girl. He breaks off their relationship, and she ends up back home. But it’s clear they miss each other.
Steven Clark’s performance keeps recurring throughout the movie. There is even a report that Steven attempted suicide, presumably because people were making fun of him. We know American Superstarz will be Frank’s final destination, determined as he is to kill all those that have been mean and hurtful to Steven. Frank walks out onto the stage with an AK-47 and dynamite strapped to his chest. Roxie is in the audience, and she yells out to Frank telling him where there is a security guard, allowing Frank to turn and shoot him. Then she joins him on the stage. The theater fills with police. Frank gives his speech about people being mean to those like Steven, causing him to attempt suicide. But Steven interrupts the speech, saying that wasn’t the reason. He was upset only because he was afraid they would not let him be on television anymore.
Frank realizes that Roxie was right all along, that people don’t deserve to die because they are mean, but because they are irritating. He looks at Roxie. He tells her she is a pretty girl and hands her the AK-47, pulling out his pistol as he does. They begin spraying the room with bullets, until their bodies are pumped full of lead, uniting them in death.
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