"Live your dash"
Into The Abyss; A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life is a feature length documentary film by Werner Herzog. The documentary focuses on two men serving time for murder. One man, Michael Perry received the death sentence for the killing of Sandra Stotler, whereas his accomplice Jason Burkett received a life sentence for the murder of Sandra's son and friend (Perry was also suspected of being involved in these killings but was never charged). They were all killed over the fact that Perry and Burkett wanted to drive Sandra's new car.
The documentary doesn't really focus on the details of the crimes and the innocence or guilt of the men, but instead tells the story of their experience in prison and on death row. Herzog asks them about their sense of the passing of time and how Perry copes with the thought of the death sentence hanging over him. The film is very similar to Herzog's On Death Row, a television mini series which also looks at prison life in the same manner but questions different death row inmates. The documentaries are more conversations with these inmates rather than the typical documentary formula of exploring and analysing the facts.
The documentary also interviews family members of the victims as well as a pastor who visits death row inmates during their final days and an ex-state executioner. It is these last two people who make the documentary so interesting and different to the run of the mill prison documentary; how many of us really consider what happens to the people surrounding death row cases whom are not directly involved in the case itself. It is the pastor and the executioner that show more emotion than even the prisoners themselves.
The film's primary message is to get us to question capital punishment. 'We are all people, who has the right to take another's life?' questions the film. It does encourage us to see everyone featured in the documentary simply as a human being, rather than the caricatures of a monstrous criminal waiting to die, tragic victims who can never go on to lead normal lives or someone simply doing their job. Nor does it try to rationalise nor reason why or how they could have committed the crimes; this would allow the view to be swayed in their opinions by their innocence or guilt. Although I don't feel the film makes us feel sorry for the inmates; I don't think this would be possible considering the pointless stupidity of their crime, it does make us see them as people dealing with a tough situation brought upon themselves through consequences of their own action by painting a picture of their lives in that moment.
Personally, I'm still undecided. I think it's a good thing as it serves as a deterrent and rids the world of some hideous characters, but I also wonder how putting another family through the death of their loved one can be fair on them.
There's also a great interview with Herzog here which goes into a lot more depth.