During Into the Abyss (2011) Werner Herzog interviewed two men convicted of a triple homicides which occurred in Conroe, Texas. Herzog also interviewed the families and friends of the victims and murderers, whose lives are deeply affected by the case. The interviews were framed and edited in a candid and direct approach, the power of the film comes from Herzog’s ability to penetrate into the psyches of the interviewees, revealing a level of honesty that is both mesmerizing and painful to watch.
The film centers on Michael Perry on the death row, eight days before his execution upon the interview, and his close associate Jason Burkett, who is serving a life sentence for his crime. The reason of the homicides is trivial – they wanted to steal their friend’s car for joyride and murdered three people as a result.
Herzog said up front he disapproved capital punishment, which is still legal in some parts of the United States. The film, however, is by no mean politically driven. His interest lies within the surrounding circumstances in which these tragedies happen, and the consequences of the lives involved.
Most of the questions which Herzog asked demand answers of details which reveal multi-faceted layers of the interviewees. In one scene, he asked Delbert Burkett, the father of Jason Burkett, what he would do if he could start all over again. Delbert answered a series of trivial scenes a successful father would take for granted, such as watching his son in a baseball game, playing flute in school, things which are like scattering memories belonging to a father given a better circumstance. Delbert is also serving a life sentence in the prison.
Delbert also recalled he could hold his baby son in one hand, how did he grow up to commit these crimes? Details like this keep reasserting the human qualities of the murderers, stirring complicated feelings toward them. Herzog is not interested to investigate the guilt of Michael and Jason. We are free to make choices which lead to consequences good or bad. In this case, they made a very poor judgment and had to live with it.
Thanks to Delbert’s heartfelt confession in the court, Jason is spare of the death sentence, now serving a 40 years sentence. He married his wife Melyssa Burkett after he was convicted. Herzog implied in the film that Melyssa was able to smuggle Jason’s sperm out of the jail. She was pregnant of Jason’s baby during the course of the movie.
The sense of hope pulls us up from the abyss. Why is Jason on the better side of the deal and Michael was sentenced to death? Well, they made free choices when they were free men, the rest is all luck.
Reblogged from Kubrickians.com – Movie Critics