Thursday, November 10, 2011

Herzog goes into the abyss

In 2000 the small town of Conroe, Texas was shaken by a triple murder perpetrated by a pair of teenagers. Last year, filmmaker Werner Herzog (long fascinated by issues of imprisonment and crime) interviewed the killers (one on Death Row days before his execution, the other serving a life sentence), as well as family members and law enforcement officials involved in the crime and several people involved at various levels in the workings of capital punishment. Also included are anecdotes from local citizens, each with an unusually close relationship to death and violence, that make one wonder if there's some strange cloud of chaos hovering over Conroe.

The resulting film, Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, is one of Herzog's most probing and moving works in recent memory. Herzog's reputation has blossomed in recent years into this stentorian, nearly self-parodic diatribist railing regularly against the cruelty of nature. He seems strangely humbled by his subject matter here; his now trademark narration is gone, and there's an earnestness and humanity in his voice even as he talks to the darkest of his subjects.

But as revealing as this film is of Herzog, it's the humanity of his subjects that resonates. A lesser film would have called more attention to the incongruities that gently appear throughout the film (such as the lip service paid to Christianity, despite the ongoing violations of "thou shalt not kill"), but in letting the subjects speak (quietly, despairingly, angrily, resolutely) for themselves, the film gives us a much more powerful, and weirdly hopeful, picture of the humanity that exists even in these unlikely environs. It's a film you won't soon forget, and we hope you'll comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

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