Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Men and women and ideas--The Making of a Murderer
The whole world is watching The Making of a Murderer, an entirely captivating ten hours of new television that tells the story of Steven Avery, a man with far more hair than brains, a man twelve jurors and a judge claim killed Teresa Halbach, a young woman, for no other reason than some perverse and horrible fun. All this happens in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, a good half hour from where I was born.
That's one reason we watched The Making of a Murderer. The place I still call home isn't far away.
As millions have discovered, the film is unendingly perplexing. If Steven Avery murdered Teresa Halbach, he is a horrible monster who deserves to spend the rest of his life in the tightest cell the state can find. If he didn't kill her however, he's a horrible victim of law enforcement's rush to judgment, not once but twice in his life. The film-makers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, claim they don't know themselves whether Avery murdered Teresa Halbach, which means that after ten hours of riveting film-making, we don't either. And that's horribly frustrating.
And, the horror isn't over--not for the family of Teresa Halbach or the family of Steven Avery. "He whos sups with the Devil," an ancient proverb used to say, "had best use a long spoon." After ten hours, we still don't know who the "he" is.
More than 300,000 people have signed on-line petitions to set Avery and his nephew, Brenden Dassy, free. Both were found guilty, both are doing hard time--Steven without possibility of parole. Dassy, who was just 16 at the time and wasn't blessed with great clarity of mind, could be paroled in another 33 years. It's a sad, sad story--and a vicious one--in dozens and dozens of ways.
If you're a resident of Manitowoc County, and you, like millions of others, believe Avery was framed, then some demented killer is still out there on the loose, hunting for another Teresa Halbach. That too is horrifying.
We watched Making of Murderer because our kids had, and we wanted to see what they were talking about. And I know the territory, understand the thick accents the Averys use. I know the seagulls, the geese, the hard Wisconsin cold just off the big lake. About the only symbol you don't see is Packer paraphernalia, not even a hoodie. These people are strange.
It's not a joke, and I shouldn't be making light of the Averys. They're right out of William Faulkner, only cheeseheads, a band of rough-hewn pseudo-criminals, badgers in bibs and camo, who live hard and play hard. They know the inside of a jail cell, and not because they're committed to Matthew 25. They're not at all comely. One of graces of the series is that the filmmakers didn't make the Averys into a freak show--and they could have.
But that's not the story Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi want to tell. The story they want to tell is in the title--"The Making of a Murderer." What they arrange through selective film-making is a story about how the Averys could have been railroaded. The police and legal system of Manitowoc County provide them ample resources to do just that.
The interrogation of Brenden Dassy seems a travesty. The only truth it proves is the kid has minimal abilities when it comes to clear thought. The way the investigators stimulate his confession is blood-curdling.
And it makes law-enforcement look evil. They're not framing the Averys--that's not the point. They're only trying to make the case air-tight. The cops and the county attorney are convinced the Averys are guilty, and what the film implies is that law is willing to bend the truth to get that verdict. They want conviction, in every sense of the word.
They get it in court, but not in the minds of viewers. We don't know, but then, as they've been confessing in interviews, neither do Demos and Ricciardi.
They claim it's not a story about the Averys; it's a story about an idea--how the legal system works to create murderers. Sure. But can anyone really tell a story about people and want it to be about an idea? We don't feel pain or sympathy or sadness for ideas. Ideas don't suffer. We don't see their tears. We don't walk with them to a massive prison gate. We don't feel the chains an idea's children lug into courtrooms.
It's not an idea that makes 300,000 viewers sign petitions, it's the people who embody those ideas; it's the word justice made flesh.
It may well be cold calculation on the part of the filmmakers to say this film is about an idea, but for better or for worse a million viewers are thinking The Making of a Murderer is all about the Averys.
(a little more tomorrow)
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:06 AM