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Aileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerReview - Aileen - Life and Death of a Serial Killer
DVD
by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill (Directors)
Columbia Tristar, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 2nd 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 22)

Director Nick Broomfield made a documentary about Aileen Wuornos in 1992, The Selling of a Serial Killer, in which he showed how those around Aileen, including several policemen, tried hard to make a profit while her legal team made no genuine effort to defend her. This more recent film Life and Death of a Serial Killer contains several clips from the earlier film, and it is a more powerful production because it is better edited and it has more interviews with Aileen, right up to the time before her execution. It also includes clips from some of Aileen's trials and from television news shows that covered her cases. The combined effect of all these different sources is make a convincing case that she was abused throughout her youth, she committed her first killing in self-defense and that she was suffering from a severe mental disorder when she was executed.

Broomfield meets several of the people who Aileen grew up with, and goes to Troy, Michigan, where her family lived. She was beaten, sexually abused, and got pregnant when she was thirteen. She had a baby who was put up for adoption, and she had to sleep out in the woods even in the winters or prostitute herself as a way to be able to stay in hotel rooms and keep warm. It was just after the Viet Nam war and there were a lot of drugs around. The interviews with the people from her youth are disturbing and fascinating, because there seemed to be such flagrant acceptance of cruelty and the mistreatment of children in small-town America. When she was sixteen, Aileen moved to Florida. She married a 76-year-old man but the marriage only lasted a month after she beat him up with his own walking stick. Then she started relationships with women, and eventually became involved with Tyra (who was later played by Christina Ricci in the movie Monster). It was then that the killings started, and Aileen murdered seven men.

In this documentary, Broomfield pays attention to the fact that Tyra was cooperating with the police and Hollywood producers when she testified against Aileen. He clearly finds it problematic that Tyra has financial and other prudential interests in getting Aileen prosecuted and convicted. While there is strong evidence that she is mentally ill, she is not carefully examined psychiatrically and it does not seem that the state of Florida, or even the US Supreme Court, are particularly concerned about executing people with serious mental disorders.

Aileen refuses to maintain her defenses and she wants to forego her rights to appeal her death sentence. Despite her previous testimony, she now says that the first murder was not in self-defense. Her only concern about her prosecution is the odd belief that the police knew about her first murder but didn't arrest her because they were hoping that she would kill again so that they could become famous through her case. At one point, when Aileen thinks she is not being filmed, she does admit that her first killing was in self-defense, but she will not make any move to say this publicly because, sick of her life in jail, she desperately wants to die. It seems that she has many bizarre beliefs, including the idea that she will go to heaven on her death.

The last interview with the serial killer is especially disturbing because she is clearly out of touch with reality, suffering from a delusion that she had previously been tortured with sonic pressure. She predicts that she will be met by Jesus, God and the angels when she is murdered. She is very clearly angry at society for the way she has been treated, and she feels her actions were justified, but her desire to die stops her from going into any detailed explanation of her murders.

Life and Death of a Serial Killer is a powerful film that shows the injustice of the American legal system. It demonstrates that the thirst for vengeance, money and political power trumps any understanding of mental illness. Highly recommended.

 

2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Links:

        http://www.aileenfilm.com

        Review of Monster

 

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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