Editorial,  Other

The West Memphis Three: Glorifying Brutality?

It was recently announced that the documentary, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, has been nominated for an Oscar.  It has caused uproar with the families involved in the story and leads us to ask, ‘Does cinema glorify awful historical moments, or simply highlight important parts of our past for each of us to learn from?’

The documentary itself, split into a trilogy, depicts the story of the murder of three minors Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore in Robin Hood Hills, Memphis, in 1993.  At the time, the offense was assumed to be the result of a satanic ritual carried out by three teenage boys who had previous convictions for minor criminal acts and each having such low IQ scores, were deemed capable of such brutality.  This crime hit the headlines not only for the horrific details of the murder, but also for the controversy behind the conviction of those imprisoned for it.  Many have, in the past, campaigned for the release of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley  Jr. and Jason Baldwin claiming that the evidence was inconclusive and the police department that dealt with it was corrupted.

Without delving into the horrors that the trial of 1993 unearthed, I’d like to return to the original question that I posed.  In the past, films and documentaries have depicted some of the most horrific and shameful moments of human existence; the holocaust, the passion of Christ, the assassination of JFK to name but a few.   So why is this documentary any different?  Can it be granted exemption from the prying eyes of the public or must it go under scrutiny just like the rest of history?

I believe it must be reopened for people to examine it.  It is understandable that the individual families are infuriated by the deaths of their sons being plastered over the cinema screen.  To have the whole world pay £6 each to watch the demise of your child as they munch away on a bag of popcorn is obviously disrespectful.

But the documentary serves a beneficial purpose.  If the legacy of these children was lost forever, hidden away beneath the hills of West Memphis, nothing would have been learnt.  For this act of cruelty to be forgotten, in some sense, deems it acceptable; it just becomes another common day occurrence that no one publicly asserts as being completely intolerable.  When we watch classic films such as Schindler’s List, which portrays the mass murder in the Second World War, we are forced to remember the enormity and impact that the event had and hope that in the future it will never be repeated.  In the same way,Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory allows today’s society, for example, to understand the corruption of the judicial system in America and appreciate the more transparent system that is operated nowadays.  It warns us of the cruelty of humanity and the frailty of life and most of all, it highlights the undeserved suffering felt.

The families have every right to be outraged by the documentary because really, who wouldn’t be?  But I believe that like Schindler’s List, (albeit the difference in the scale of murder) the cinematic footage wasn’t created to glamorise what had happened, but rather to artistically create a realm in which those victims involved will always remain and never be forgotten.  For that very reason, I believe that the documentary should have been made and when done tastefully, cinema has a way of unveiling events so we can learn from them, as opposed to exploiting them to make money.

You can read the original published article here.

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