As I continue my work on my project on filmed confessions, I have come across some of the most excruciating film footage I have ever sat through. I wonder why it is I ever stopped writing about hollywood dramas. These criminal confessions are terrifying.
I just watched for a third time the film of Deanne Laney's confession. She is the Texas mother of three boys, two of whom she stoned to death in 2003. The part that most moves her to tears is not when she describes how she killed her two boys, but when she tells the story of little birds learning to fly just outside her kitchen window. "Where's their mother?" She wonder aloud. "Just then, the mother's head pops up. She was there all the time." Laney starts crying at that point. Why? Because she's like that little bird, learning to fly. Just when you think God has abandoned you, he is right there. "I'm teaching you now how to fly," God ostensibly tells Laney. And she then decides she must kill her sons.
Just this last week, the L.A. Film Festival honored a documentary by Amy Berg called "Deliver Us From Evil" about one priest, Oliver O'Grady, and his past crimes of child rape and molestation. He now lives in Ireland, having been deported after serving seven years of a criminal sentence in the US. The documentary is in large part interviews with O'Grady about his past criminal acts as the camera follows him around the streets and parks of Dublin. By all accounts (I have only seen several long clips of the film), O'Grady is truly happy to be telling his story and searching for some peace and understanding through the filmmaking process. He admits what he did was wrong. Like Deanne Laney, there is a sense of freedom in the telling.
What am I learning from these films? When I am entirely engrossed in them, thinking "only this kind of delusional person could commit such crimes" I realize how powerful film is, how enveloping a medium it can be. The film has fooled me into conflating the image of the person -- the film's portrayal of the person -- with person who committed the crimes. I think I truly know the person confessing and his or her reasons for doing so. But all I know is the manner in which he or she performs for the camera. What I am really seeing (I think) is that Laney and O'Grady want to tell their story, they seek liberation (achieve some statis or understanding) in the act of telling. When I look at the film itself (its form, the mediation of the camera) and not that which the film purports to represent (some revelation of a person's innerbeing), I become aware not only of how we make ourselves anew with each telling of our past, but how only this new telling can be the basis of judgment. Maybe this is (or should be) enough. Because in as much as law tries to conjure the past to adjudicate its criminality, it will inevitably fail.