INTO THE ABYSS
Directed by Werner Herzog. Featuring Jason Burkett, Michael Perry, Werner Herzog. 106 mins.
In cinemas now
WERNER HERZOG’S DEATH PENATLY DOC IS INNATELY FASCINATING BUT SOFTLY PRESENTED
In 2001 in the Texan town of Conroe, two teenage boys were accused of murdering three people in a car theft gone wrong. Jason Burkett was sentenced to life in prison. Michael Perry was sentenced to death by lethal injection. In the weeks leading up to Perry’s execution, Werner Herzog interviews the two prisoners, their families, the families of the victims and policemen involved in the case to examine what would make a person kill someone else; and why the State would react in kind.
Herzog’s approach is a subtle one, presenting information and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Though Herzog states he doesn’t believe in capital punishment, his focus on the damning facts of the case, harrowing crime scene evidence, and harrowing, grief-stricken interviews with the victims’ families reveals why one potentially could.
But for such a huge, emotionally charged subject, Herzog seems to dance around the giant, handcuffed elephant in the room. Even considering potential legal reasons, it’s hard to forgive Herzog’s failure to push the men on the question of guilt or remorse; especially as Perry never claims to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Social factors, such as the men’s family history of crime and the area’s poor education level also remain ignored. This becomes more disconcerting as Perry – though days from death – remains unbelievably chipper, answering Herzog’s soft inquiries with simplistic religious soundbites and often misunderstanding the question, leading the viewer to an uncomfortable, also unasked question: can a man – or rather, a boy – who doesn’t even understand the impending nature of his own death, really understand the impact of causing someone else’s?
In this innately fascinating, thought-provokingbut flawed documentary, it’s unclear what the titular abyss refers to – the nature of the death penalty or a mind capable of murder. Either way, Herzog seems to be circling the edges of this troublesome ravine, reluctant to dive in.