Conspiracy theorist Nick Broomfield’s Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer documented the controversy and media frenzy surrounding Florida state police officers who tried to sell the story of “America’s first female serial killer” to the highest bidder. Almost a decade later, Broomfield was subpoenaed to appear in court during one of Wuornos’s appeals and extracts from his documentary were used to discredit the woman’s ex-hippie lawyer at the time of her 1992 conviction. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer allows Broomfield to not only look at Aileen’s tragic life for a second time but to reassess the very nature of truth and the way it was distorted, contextualized and rationalized by the media, our judicial system and, even, Wournos herself. If Broomfield seems more detached than usual that’s because he has been placed in the unusual position of having to confront the legal implications his documentary approach may have on a woman’s life. But more compelling than watching Broomfield’s theories deflate before his eyes is the picture of Wournos finally succumbing to the cruelty of the judicial system. Just as The Selling of a Serial Killer could have inadvertently gotten her a new trial, Wournos seems to deliberately use Broomfield’s new documentary as a means to speed up her execution. Until the end, it’s unclear whether Wournos killed in self-defense—she tells Broomfield on-camera that her victims were innocent, but when she doesn’t know that she’s being taped she tells an entirely different story. A victim of rape, torture and incest (it’s alleged that she slept with her brother and that her grandfather may also be her father), a clearly insane Wournos emerges as a woman betrayed by the world. (After seeing the film, the failure of Patty Jenkins’s outsider-looking-in peepshow Monster is more obvious, though Charlize Theron’s performance has grown considerably more impressive.) Broomfield doesn’t use the woman’s past to justify her bad behavior—neither does Wournos, through her subconscious primal screams would suggest otherwise. If there’s a confused tone to the film, it’s more or less appropriate. The only reality here is that truth is slippery, and that’s something Broomfield understands more than most documentary filmmakers working today. Where a film like Capturing the Friedmans uses the uncertainty of truth as a kind of entertainment, Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer uses it to suggest the failure of our unsympathetic judicial system.
- Lantern Lane Entertainment
- 89 min
- Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
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