Speaking of documentaries, I recently watched the DVD of "Aileen - Life and Death of a Serial Killer" which is truly harrowing. I've never watched the film "Monster," where Charlize Theron, in heavy makeup, plays the role of Aileen Wuornos, and in fact, I've gone out of my way to avoid seeing it. When you make a movie with actors and the subject is a murderer, you are naturally going to be pulled toward a narrative account in which events and relationships provide the motivation. But watching the documentary, which includes a lot of footage of Aileen Wuornos speaking straight into the camera and appearing in court, you can clearly see that the woman was quite insane--and very dangerously so. The filmmaker, Nick Broomfield, is painfully sympathetic to her, as he believes she committed the first in her series of murders in self-defense. You can't tell whether he's right about that or not. I don't think he is. From what I was able to gather about her life prior to the first murder, she seems to have been severely troubled all her life. But it is impossible to tell what is true. She speaks of living outdoors year round in Michigan, sleeping in the woods with just a thin blanket all winter long. How could one survive such conditions?
You can watch this film and think about whether it is right to execute an insane person. The film relays that Governor Jeb Bush followed a procedure according to which three psychiatrists examined Wuornos (for 15 minutes) and determined that she was not insane. Of course, you're shocked that anyone could conclude she was sane, and the film leaves you to conclude that the government entirely abused its power by executing her. What you're not told, though, is that the standard the psychiatrists were asked to apply is whether she was able to understand what the reasons for the death penalty are and what its implications are, and it is actually easy to see that she did understand those things. It was quite unfair to Bush and the psychiatrists not to reveal that that was the question. Yet I think even knowing that this was the standard, you could end up thinking that it was immoral to execute her, though clearly she needed to be locked up for life.