'Off the Rails' provides a window into a psyche

( Unrated ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Rails' centers on Darius McCollum, who has been arrested 30 times in the past 35 years for impersonating transit workers while driving subways and buses loaded with passengers.

Gemini Pictures
'Off the Rails' stars Darius McCollum.

Darius McCollum, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a young man, is notorious in New York for his obsession with trains and buses. Now 50, he has been arrested 30 times in the past 35 years for impersonating transit workers while driving subway trains and buses loaded with passengers. He has spent half his life in prison, where he currently is residing once again, despite the efforts of lawyers and therapists to intervene.

McCollum and the people surrounding him are interviewed extensively in Adam Irving’s fine documentary “Off the Rails,” which never sets McCollum up as the wacky figure of fun as proclaimed by so many of the New York tabloids. In the movie, his obsession with trains is linked to his illness, his need to secure a haven. He sees himself as the man who brings his “passengers” safely to their destination.

Irving doesn’t skimp the inherent thorny legal issues involved in McCollum’s situation. As one of the prosecutors explains, what is one to do with someone whose recidivism poses a potential threat to people? Given the opportunity, between prison stints, to reform, McCollum heartbreakingly reverts over and over again to his old ways despite his serial protestations, no doubt genuinely felt, to shape up.

If nothing else, “Off the Rails,” which includes a few too many reenactments for my taste, does what many good documentaries do. It provides us with a window into the psyche of a person worth caring about. Grade: A- (Unrated.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.