Into the Abyss (2012)

Directed by Werner Herzog

The curiosity of man is one of its greatest attributes, and no other filmmaker exemplifies this more than Werner Herzog. His documentaries are always interesting for the pure, unadulterated curiosity of his beautiful German mind. Herzog sets out with an idea and lets it grow organically as he explores the many roads down which the story is ultimately found. Herzog states in the early stages of the film that he is against the death penalty, but this is not a film that seeks to make that determination, that looks to uncover the reasons why the death penalty exists. Instead it lets the stories of two confessed killers lend themselves to exploring the curiosity of death and murder.

It is a grim circumstance that surrounds the triple homicide that landed Michael Perry and Jason Burkett in jail, Burkett with a life sentence and Perry on death row. The greatest question is always “why”, and Herzog utilizes that question with great effectiveness throughout. But the true triumph of the film is its ability to not pass judgement. It may not find a conclusive determination of why people choose to kill, including the government and the idea of the death penalty, but it does so in a fair way. It gives equal time and opportunity to each subject. And perhaps the most effective segment of the film is the interview with Jason Burkett’s father, who is serving a 40 year sentence himself.

More so than the consequence and mystery of killing, the interview with Burkett’s father helps shed light on the tragedy of the perpetual cycle. Jason Burkett’s father was in and out of prison in Jason’s youth, leaving a void in the sons life, which adversely effects his development. It is a sad story to see unfold, heartbreaking. The whole film is heartbreaking really, seeking answers to questions that may be to hard to truly answer. Killing is senseless, and always has been, and yet it persists. There is no telling why, or even if it will ever end. Herzog is a world treasure. His asides are evidence of his genius. This is not his best film, but it does stand to be further testament to why he is as great as he is.

*** – Very Good

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