Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

On October, 24 2001, Michael Perry and his friend, Jason Burkett, decided steal a Camaro from the the Montgomery home of Sandra Stotler. Perry entered the house through the garage. Perry shot Sandra Stotler with a shotgun and the two men dumped her body in Montgomery County’s Crater Lake.

The duo then returned to the gated community where Sandra Stotler lived and waited outside the locked gate until the dead woman’s son, Adam Stotler, and his friend, 18-year-old Jeremy Richardson arrived. Perry and Burkett lured the teens to a wooded area and killed Adam Stotler and Richardson. Perry and Burkett, driving the Isuzu Rodeo Adam Stotler had been using, went back to Sandra Stotler’s home and finally stole her Camaro. They kept the Camaro for no longer than 72 hours and were finally apprehended after a gun fight with the police. Perry received a death sentence and Burkett received a life sentence.

Into the Abyss is the new documentary film from Werner Herzog, it focuses on the two convicts and various people affected by the crime. In his documentaries, Herzog always seeks what he calls the “ecstatic truth”, his theory that storytellers should never look away from the truth. It’s not enough that we know that murder exists. You have to look at it face-to-face. Once you do this, you will find a whole well of deeper truth.

That was my experience watching Into the Abyss, on the surface it covers a very depressing subject. At the helm of any  lesser director it would probably be depressing. Instead, it cuts right through and takes you to different places emotionally beyond “hey dude, murder is depressing, so be depressed while you watch this”. It’s emotionally raw, the parts about the victim’s families dealing with the victim’s deaths are powerful stories. We see that it so much more harder to grieve when one’s death was over something so meaningless. Mostly we can say that these deaths are all made from wrong choices. Did these people have a choice? Some seemingly did and some claimed they did not. It would be so much easier to judge and encapsulate how we feel about a person’s actions if we did not look at the whole truth of his predicament.

There is humor at times, but it’s not there to break tension. It comes as part of the ecstatic truth. Herzog greets the father of Jason Burkett, Delbert Burkett, who is also in prison, “How are you?” The sits down and casually snaps a “I’m fine.” Herzog half-scoffs, “How fine (are you really)?” Delbert recounts how he testified for his son in court and pleaded to the judge not to execute Jason. He blames himself for not being there as a father and never gave his son a chance for a good life.

It’s even romantic at times, the wife of Jason Burkett speaks about how she fell in love with her husband and desires to bear his child, despite that they will not be together for 40 years until he makes parole. She holds a sonogram picture of the baby and that was an unnerving moment. As she held up the picture, I wondered if the child is another seed of criminality. That’s what I saw. I think other people will have different interpretations. The film is dense enough for it.

One of the most chilling moments for me was the interview with Fred Allen, the Captain of the Death House Team in Texas, where the prisoners are brought to be executed. He describes the procedure of taking the patient to be lethally injected and his struggle with keeping the job after lethally injecting 125 convicts. A notepad is shown noting the times of the procedure of Michael Perry’s execution: when he arrived, when he was strapped to the bed, when he was injected and when he passed. That struck me still. I did not have an emotion for that.

Herzog does not narrate as he usually does and I think that was a good aesthetic choice. He only conducts the interviews. Herzog’s own views are implied in the film (he is against the idea of capital punishment), but it’s not as loud of a statement as one would experience in a Michael Moore film. It is unlike Cave of Forgotten Dreams where he needed to answer, “Why the hell are we looking at these caves for 2 hours?”  There is no question of why we need to watch this and Werner Herzog takes a step back from telling us his personal views. The viewer is left to decide how they want to judge the actions Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog provides no answers, but asks all the right questions.

Why did these three people die for a car? Why did these two kids kill for a joyride? How does death affect a family? How do you live your life knowing that you will be executed next week? Is there any real purpose to executing Michael Perry? After all, it won’t bring them back. Does anyone, including the state, have any right to take a life? Just because the law says so, does that make it right?

At the end, It left me raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I thought about the absurdity and ironies of life. Into the Abyss reflected the human predicament and how as human beings we think we know everything, but we are not even close to understanding ourselves.

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay

There are three Louis C.K. jokes about how parenting is the hardest job in the world, it is the only job you cannot quit and yet parents are never allowed to say it is hard in front of people. That idea taken to an extreme is the premise of We Need To Talk About Kevin.

What is that extreme? It is the worst child imaginable. The kid Kevin (played by Ezra Miller) in this movie is an evil cunt (excuse my French, but if you see this movie, you will understand) whose sole purpose is to hurt people without purpose. Why does he hurt people? He doesn’t even know, he just enjoys it with zero empathy. I hope Ezra Miller can get a date after the film’s release. Yes, it’s that kind of performance.

It’s funny how stories can take you places and make you feel things that would never be okay in real life. I remember watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona and remember rooting for Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johannson and Penelope Cruz’s odd threesome relationship because it made them all happy. I laughed, going “Damn you, Woody Allen for making me feel like this.” That’s what makes watching movies fun. And here’s the thing with this film: I wanted Kevin to die. I was thinking up horrible ways for him to die throughout the entire movie. The worst scenario I was wishing was Kevin’s mother Eva (played by Tilda Swinton) to curb stomp him and get it over with. We Need To Talk About Kevin took me to an unique place, an uncomfortable place sure, but somewhere I have never quite been – wanting a little child to die so her mom can be free of him.

Speaking of the mother, the story completely hangs on Tilda Swinton’s performance. Completely. There are scenes where the viewer is fully omitted from what she’s looking at, but we’re only allowed to interpret what it is through her facial reactions. She constantly plays two opposing emotions against each other. Her character Eva feels remorse for bringing this little motherfucker into existence but out of her duty as a mother she must stick by him. The ultimate tragedy is that Kevin came out of her womb. As a mother she is symbiotically connected to him (and the film underplays that as part of it’s unnerving tension) and therefore responsible for his actions, even though she completely probably wishes she never had him to begin with.

The soundscape in this film is very noteworthy. It represents Eva’s emotional state from her first person perspective. Much of the score is these dark tones, which helps physicalize experience Eva’s inner unexplainable turmoil. Throughout the film Kevin has a habit of doing little things with his hands that are unnerving: he’s mashing breakfast cereal into pieces, snapping Crayons in half, throwing jam/paint all over the place, rolling bread rolls into little balls as if he’s constantly picking at his mother’s patience. Contrastingly, Eva hands are constantly cleaning, wiping, scrapping, as if she’s trying to wipe the imprint of her son away. All these little sounds helps you experience what it’s like being right up close to Kevin and how anarchic and annoying he is. We experience her personal first-person version of hell and it’s an unnerving experience.

There’s a running motif with the colour red, it follows with Eva in her younger pre-Kevin years and eventually the color red appears along with Kevin. It’s meaning develops into different things as the story progresses along. It physicalized the symbiotic relationship between the mother and the son. It represented other things too, but I won’t go into it any further. Yes, spot the colour red!

Lynne Ramsay understands faces and how it can evoke a feeling like a landscape (Seriously, Google Ezra Miller’s face or look at his face above). I like this trait in a director. I can’t explain it.

This was very well done. There’s a lot of craft to telling a great story. I can’t recommend it more! Damn, I’m going to have to come up with a Top Ten List for 2011.

P.S. A reason to watch the end credits. This movie has a “Computer Virus Maker”.