The debate about the Death Penalty in the United States has cooled as the nation goes through economic issues and other social debates rise to the top of the social pool. Still the master Werner Herzog’s new documentary, “Into the Abyess: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life” is a way to look at the debate from all sides. Herzog does an amazing job of never really getting his own point of view across. He is neither an apologist for the criminals he speaks to and about, but he doesn’t ride them into the ground either.
The case he digs into follows Michael Perry, a small-town Texas teen who wanted to steal a red Camaro convertible. He and another teen broke into the home. Shot and killed the woman inside, went on to kill two others just for the car. Herzog does not shy away from showing the police crime scene videos. They are very graphic. Showing them though was making it clear that this film was showing everything out right. The case itself was rather simple, both Perry and his friend Burkett were tracked down in under a week and were in possession of the dead woman’s car and had the murder weapon. The case isn’t the point here. Perry was sentenced to death. Burkett got life in prison. The movie isn’t really about that though. It’s about what happens to everyone involved when the state kills someone.
The best parts of the film are when Herzog interviews men connected in the execution, including a priest and the man who had to strap down over one hundred people to the gurney. These are very personal moments that these men open up to and a lot of what they say is heart breaking. The film is hard to sit through in places and I understand the topic is a little bit of a downer, but it’s very important, no matter where you stand on the debate, do yourself a favor and go see this film.