Werner Herzog’s “Into The Abyss” Is A Surreal And Unflinching Analysis Of Capital Punishment

by • September 10, 2011 • Movies, Politics, SocietyComments (0)5961

Werner Herzog‘s latest documentary Into The Abyss recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to outstanding reviews, and from all accounts posits a uniquely surreal survey of capital punishment that only Herzog could possibly achieve.  His analysis of death row inmates and the wake of tragedy that they’ve left behind not only in their own lives, but the lives of their victims, provides the viewer with a stunning cross section of vengeance and its place in the modern human experience.  The following are excerpts from the Guardian’s as well as The Film Stage’s reviews:

GUARDIAN: What you’d like more of is the men at the centre of the crime, for Herzog to grapple directly with their obfuscations, their religious conversions. Yet they remain opaque, behind their glass panes and grills, just as the pregnancy of one of their wives (who fell for him while working on his appeal) stays mysterious. But these are the kind of surrealities Herzog also does best. He coaxes stories of mysterious monkey attacks and ravenous alligators from the least likely places, lingers in auto graveyards, where impounded vehicles – including the one which motivated these murders – sit until tree roots spring up next to the gearstick. For something with such a morbid draw, Into the Abyss leaves you startled by life. (read the review in full HERE)

THE FILM STAGE: Describing this film is difficult: it’s not journalism. Journalism stops at established facts. It is a comprehensive portrait contained in a story that unfolds with a clear point-of-view, growing out of a series of portraits Herzog is working on for the Discovery Channel. Remarkably, through a series of interviews including a focus on the victim’s family and the wife of Burkett, Herzog crafts a work focused not on the past, but the present. A travelogue of sorts (he stated he’d known each of his interviewees for less than an hour), he has created an engaging and mesmerizing film. The truth of the film exists within the film: manipulated by a music score and shot selection as all film is, Herzog remains a master, providing us humanity, which is far more complex – and troubling than the facts.  (read the review in full HERE).

I also came across the Guardian’s exceptional vignette of the film which includes a sit-down with Herzog himself.  I wish the Guardian would allow embedding of their amazing clips on other websites, but alas, they do not.  In the clip, Herzog’s enlightened insight navigates the viewer through the difficult and contradictory terrain of capital punishment in the free world.  It’s an absolute must see and you can watch it via the link below.  I’ve also attached a TIFF preview of the film below as well.   Into the Abyss was picked up by Sundance Selects, and will be released in the coming months.  For all FEELguide posts related to Herzog’s extraordinary documentary Cave Of Forgotten Dreams CLICK HERE.


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