Thursday, January 29, 2015

into the abyss [2011]

werner herzog's documentary on murder -- committed by two young men and the state meting out the death sentence -- is one of the most even-handed examinations i have seen made on the subject.  herzog is clear he opposes the death penalty.  he says to michael perry -- who was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the triple murders committed in conroe, tx on october 2001 -- 'i don't have to like you but i respect you as a human being and no human being should be murdered.'

there is only the voice of herzog as he interviews perry eight days before his execution.  the filmmaker never allows himself in the frame.  rather his focus is on the movie's subjects.  he interviews perry's accomplice, jason burkett, who is serving a 40 year to life sentence for the same crimes.  herzog interviews burkett's young wife and his father who is also serving a 40 year to life sentence.  herzog in turn interviews the daughter and sister of two of the murder victims and he interviews the reverend who will administer comfort to perry when he is strapped to the gurney.  another interviewee is the former captain of the death squad whose job is to keep company of the prisoner on the day of the scheduled execution.

you would expect a filmmaker to get at least a little preachy, perhaps a little strident, maybe even raise his or her voice when you oppose the death penalty and making a film about it.  i don't know but i have read that herzog is a very caring soul.  his ability to care for the dignity of human beings shines in this documentary.  his questions to each person foster trust; herzog is kind to everyone including perry and burkett.  herzog does not raise his voice.

and yet the film makes clear that murder, whether done by the state or by two idiotic young men, is still quite baldly murder.

i prefer herzog's nonfiction films to his fiction.  with documentaries he seems to get to his subjects with greater finesse and depth. he doesn't try to make sense of senselessness.  how can you when these two boys killed three people for a car?  i would call this film an exploratory metaphysics.  what is murder?  how does it change us?  what is this thing called living?  a magnificent movie.  one of herzog's best.   


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