There’s a part in “Chapter 27” where Mark David Chapman’s wife is on the phone with him. When she hangs up, he utters the darkest words in the whole movie: “I’m going to kill John Lennon.”
Look at what he just said. That line has no innuendo, no subtext, no hints that John’s going to, uh, you know, go to Canada for a little while. At this moment, Chapman comes to a simple decision: John Lennon must die, that’s all.
We usually think of Mark David Chapman – who, yes, killed John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980 – as a deranged fan. Right…and that’s exactly how Jared Leto plays him. He’s a bad guy who doesn’t want your affection or pity. He judges Lennon by all the songs he wrote: Their surprises, their revelations and their contradictions. (“‘Imagine no possessions?’ The bastard had millions.”) He gets Lennon’s last record, “Double Fantasy,” but never listens to it – all Chapman wants is for him to sign it. (The songs don’t really matter, not anymore.) He’s not sorry for killing him, either. He believes Lennon was a martyr, so fate simply planned it that way.
The movie begins with Chapman arriving in New York, getting a room at the YMCA and visiting the Dakota, where fans hang around to greet famous tenants. (Lauren Bacall, Roberta Flack, Gilda Radner, etc.) He sees a girl named Jude (Lindsay Lohan) standing there and has a talk with her – they talk about the Beatles a lot. She kind of likes him, but suspects he’s a little bit nuts. Her friend, a tabloid shutterbug named Paul (Judah Friedlander), feels uneasy whenever he comes around.
By the end of the film, Chapman will have lost his new friends, but it doesn’t really matter to him. All he thinks about is John Lennon. When he rehearses the shooting in a mirror with an empty gun, he considers every bullet and wound with a kind of fearless clarity that feels like it’s against his nature. He knows what he’s doing, but what’s startling is how he takes his time – the whole film exists in one deranged moment of anticipation. But: “When the time is right, it’ll happen,” he says. “It won’t be long.”
The title comes from Chapman’s affection for “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. He picks up where its hero, Holden Caulfield, left off in chapter 26. That’s a clue to understanding his weakness – he isn’t sure where fiction ends and reality begins. In Chapman’s mind, his manic conspiracy theories connecting it to the real world are like grave revelations. The used paperback Chapman takes with him is an extension of his world: Like the song says, nothing is real.
That was a John Lennon lyric, of course. And now, a quote: In the ‘60s, Lennon was asked how he might die. He answered, “I’ll probably be popped off by some loony.”