Life consists of a series of choices, and oftentimes those choices (especially poor ones) come to define an individual. It’s a heavy theme for a documentary, and “When Claude Got Shot” doesn’t keep its distance from the tough issues. The compelling story of Claude Motley, a man who was shot in the face by a teenage carjacker named Nathan King, and his journey to come to terms with his attacker is a compassionate, thought-provoking, philosophical meditation on how one violent incident affected different families in different ways.
The film takes place over five years and follows Claude’s life as he struggles to recover physically and mentally from the traumatic incident. From multiple surgeries, having to put his legal career on hold, and the financial and mental burdens faced by his family, it’s a tough film to watch. It’s heartbreaking to watch as the man and his wife discuss King’s fate with a criminal justice attorney, and Claude begins to realize that his own life is more similar to his shooter than not. His internal dialogue is torn between a desire to issue harsh punishment, but also to find forgiveness and not contribute to the incarceration of young black men.
Director Brad Lichtenstein employs an interesting storytelling method to really drive home the idea that while some people are defined by their choices, others tend to get an easier ride from society and our country’s justice system. The inequities faced by African-American men is delicately woven into issues like what forgiveness truly means and the complexity of gun violence. There is a lot of heavy material here, but the film is uplifting in that it inspires viewers to be a part of the solution by employing empathy and compassion when looking at those who have harmed us. King had a rough life and while that in no way excuses what he did, it does shine a bit of a light on explaining it.
I will admit that Claude is a much bigger person than I probably would be in his situation. He’s a much more sympathetic person than most would be in his situation. But there’s something about his genuine kindness that is overwhelming, and the film is as challenging as it is inspiring.
“When Claude Got Shot” is one of those rare documentaries that presents a fair, balanced examination of a horrifying event instead of taking the one-sided, my-way-or-the-highway path. It’s a contemporary examination of modern society and our definitions of justice, fairness, and revenge, and it’s a film that I won’t forget anytime soon.
By: Louisa Moore