Into the Abyss
Posted by martinteller on August 2, 2012
It’s not the crime of the century. A run-of-the-mill homicide, two Texas teenagers killing three people over a Camaro. Although the film explores the details of the case, it does not try to establish guilt or innocence. Both proclaim innocence (there were apparently recanted confessions involved) but it’s pretty clear one or both of them are guilty. Receiving separate trials, one — Jason Burkett — is sentenced to life imprisonment. The other — Michael Perry — is sentenced to execution.
Herzog states near the beginning of the film that he is against the death penalty. But in this documentary, he does not make a political argument. In fact, he does little speaking at all, putting aside his usual poetic narration in favor of plain, factual intertitles. Most of the film consists of interviews, Herzog asking probing (but not leading) questions to Burkett and Perry, the families of their victims, and those involved with death row executions.
Although on the whole I feel At the Death House Door is a more profound and thoughtful film, Herzog’s interesting twist is that his stance against the death penalty is not predicated on the possibility of executing the innocent. He just doesn’t believe that anyone has the right to kill anyone else, for any reason. In the film, he tries to establish the value of life and the profound impact of death on the living, no matter what the deceased are guilty of. It might be his saddest film. Although there are no huge emotional breakdowns or unusually tragic tales (and it’s sad enough that we don’t think of these situations as “unusually tragic”) there is an air of sorrow in many or most of the interviews. Herzog never interrupts, letting his subjects follow their own thoughts to a place of somber reflection.
It’s not as memorable as his more idiosyncratic documentaries, but it makes a strong case without heavy rhetoric. Rating: Good (74)