Site icon Kenneth Womack

Everything Fab Four: Interrogating “The Lennon Report”

There is no darker day on the Beatles’ calendar than Monday, December 8th, 1980. It seemed to begin with a flourish as John Lennon recounted his optimism for the future in what turned out to be his last interview, only to end hours later as shockwaves of horror made their way across the globe.

Directed by Jeremy Profe from a script by Profe and co-writer Walter Vincent, The Lennon Report takes us back to that terrible night when a lone gunman (played by Ben Monahan) shot the former Beatle (Gregory Barr) as he returned to his Dakota apartment in the company of his wife Yoko Ono (Karen Tsen Lee). To Profe’s great credit, the film doesn’t sensationalize Lennon’s senseless murder, but rather, offers a minute-by-minute account of the actions of the first responders and journalists who experienced its immediate aftermath.

The movie begins as police officers respond to a disturbance on West 72nd Street. As they make their way to the awful scene unfolding on the Upper West Side, Roosevelt Hospital staffers like nurse Stef Dawson (Barbara Kammerer), her colleague Deartro Sato (Ashlie Atkinson), and third-year surgical resident Dr. David Halleran (Evan Jonigkeit) settle in for what has the look and feel of a tranquil Monday evening in the ER.

But the calm doesn’t last very long, as WABC news producer Alan Weiss (Vincent) arrives on a gurney, having been felled by a motorcycle accident in Central Park. Yet before Dr. Pamela Roberts (Adrienne C. Moore) can so much as take the newsman’s pulse, a John Doe gunshot victim is rushed into the ER.

With Dawson and Sato in tow, Dr. Halleran begins a series of life-saving procedures. He is soon joined by Dr. Richard Marks (Stephen Spinella) and, later, by the unit’s department head Dr. Stephan G. Lynn (Richard Kind). As they minister to their lifeless patient, they come to the terrible realization about his identity.

Meanwhile, another drama unfolds just outside the operating room, where Weiss overhears the police mentioning Lennon’s name. Quite suddenly, Weiss finds himself bearing witness to one of the biggest news stories of all time, but in those analog days, he simply couldn’t text it in to the newsroom and, ultimately, to the eyes and ears of an unsuspecting world.

As Weiss tries to outfox Officer Joseph Medina (David Zayas) in a desperate effort to phone his scoop into the network, Ono waits for news about her husband’s condition in a nearby hospital ante room. When Weiss hears her painful sobs after she learns the dreaded truth, he finally gains unfettered access to a telephone, and within moments Howard Cosell (Rick Crom) announces Lennon’s death to a massive national television audience tuned in to ABC’s Monday Night Football. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the nightmare at Roosevelt Hospital goes global.

In its finest moments, The Lennon Report contrasts Ono’s heartbreaking scenes in the hospital with the stillness and quietude of the pre-digital era, a time when telephones had cords and a portable hear machine had to be rounded up by the nursing staff. And then there’s the hospital’s strange ambience consisting of softly-lit Christmas lights in eerie dissonance with the bloody reality of the operating room.

If The Lennon Report has a subplot, it surely involves the surgeons’ divergent accounts over the years regarding their roles in the ER that fateful night. In various news stories, both Dr. Lynn and Dr. Marks have remarked that they carried out the emergency heart surgery, when in fact it was Dr. Halleran, as the film makes indubitably clear, who held Lennon’s lifeless heart in his hands. But in truth, as Dr. Lynn himself admits, there wasn’t a lot of glory to be had at Roosevelt Hospital on December 8th, 1980: “A lot of things would be different if the surgery was a success,” he points out.

Over the years, historians have cited Lennon’s shocking, untimely death as the end of an era, as a moment when a hopeful past careened into a vastly uncertain present. But for all of its subject matter’s substantial historical significance, The Lennon Report is a relatively quiet movie, a slow-motion narrative about an event that still feels like a gut-punch for music lovers—for lovers of peace, even—the world over. And by the end of The Lennon Report, our hearts don’t merely break for Yoko and the Lennons’ five-year-old son Sean waiting back home at the Dakota for the news that he can never unknow, they break for all of us.

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