Canadian Consulting Engineer

Film review: Polytechnique replay of a massacre hits home for today’s female engineers

April 15, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The first thing to be aware of with this movie is that it is fictional, but based on the events on December 6, 1989...

The first thing to be aware of with this movie is that it is fictional, but based on the events on December 6, 1989 at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, when 14 women were killed.

The film was shot in black and white, emphasizing the bleakness of the day and the darkness of the victim’s blood. The viewer follows the gunman, a male student and a female student. While the violence is shocking and disturbing, for most of the film, only the moments just before and just after the women were shot are shown.

We learn that the gunman (played by Maxim Guadette) hates feminists, which he believes female engineering students to be, and that he has been planning this massacre for some time. We see him as he starts his day, how he practices killing himself with his gun, does the dishes and waits in his car while he works up the “courage” to do what he has planned.  We hope that someone will stop him from committing the horrific acts we know that he is about to commit, but no one does.  As he walks around the engineering building targeting and killing women, we still hope someone will do something to stop him before he takes more innocent lives, but we know that his rampage ends when he takes his own life. And so we wait for it.

The film also follows a male student Jean-Francois (Sébastien Huberdeau) who is in the classroom when the gunman separates males and females and sends the males out of the room.  We often don’t think of how such tragic events affect those other than the victims and their families, but everyone involved becomes a victim of sorts. It was an interesting perspective to see how those who were not specifically targeted react while in the midst of such horror. Later we find out how they deal with what they have witnessed and continue on with their lives.


Watching the female lead Valérie (Karine Vanasse) is like seeing any student on a typical school day. She gets ready in the morning, picking out an outfit for an interview and then walks through the snow with her roommate to get to school. You know that you could have been her. She is discriminated against in an interview and indicates that she got the job, but only because she didn’t say that she wanted a family. It is at this point that we realize how lucky we are now, unable to imagine being treated like this in any situation simply because we are female.

Next we see Valérie as one of the females that have been segregated in the classroom where the gunman starts his killing.

As a female engineer, I found it disturbing to watch those who could have been myself or my classmates be targeted simply because they were female engineering students who the gunman believed to be feminists. He didn’t know why they chose to study engineering and refused to listen to them when they tried to explain that they weren’t feminists. Here, it hits home that we are fortunate to be recognized and respected for being engineers and although we are often outnumbered, we feel comfortable in our environments at work and school and are offered the same opportunities as men.

Even though we were told the film was fictional, we know that much of what was shown in the movie actually happened.  We have an idea of how the events may have affected those on campus that day, but cannot imagine the fear that went through the women in the school or imagine how those who survived lived with what they witnessed. We know that still, everyday, somewhere in the world, violent acts are committed against people because of their sex, race or religion. A story where you can closely relate to a victim makes it all seem more real and makes us want to take action to stop this from happening again.

The film Polytechnique was directed by Denis Villeneuve and released by Alliance Films this spring.  It played in cinemas in Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

Another review of the film will be published in Canadian Consulting Engineer’s May 2009 issue.


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