Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The "Paradise Lost" Trilogy


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 150 min. Documentary.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (1999)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 130 min. Documentary.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky. 121 min. Documentary.

Multiple times, I've lost hope that movies are able to change anything or anybody, and I've accepted that they're merely a source of (sometimes smart) entertainment. But this was the first time I was definitively proven wrong. This documentary trilogy, made several years apart, changed how people thought about three youngsters accused of brutally murdering three schoolchildren (the "West Memphis 3"), and eventually got them out of prison after rotting in there for 18 years. These movies saved lives. Yes, we're talking 7 hours of film; but if you dedicate this amount of time, you will change too.

PS: The first episode got 96% on the Tomatometer. The second got 90%. The third got 100%, and won this year's Oscar for Best Documentary. Are you persuaded?

Mo says:


  1. ...yes I was persuaded, and as a long time metal fan and wearer of black I found the trilogy quite stunning. After the 1st instalment I was convinced of their innocence, after the second I was dumbfounded that they remained behind bars. Even at the end of the third they are still "guilty". Justice really does grind along at a snails pace but these movies are as strong an argument as is possible that the death penalty should be abolished.

  2. I'm glad you were. "Paradise Lost" affected me in two ways. One, as you mention, is how the society judges people and executes them in their minds, just based on how people look. IMO, the most critical point in the entire trilogy, is at the end of the first episode, where Jason Baldwin says even if he was a juror, he would've convicted himself. That's such a cold and bitter statement on how we judge people, while at the same time we condemn those who do.

    Second, I am one of the people who believe (or believed) if someone is truly proven guilty (e.g. child murderers), they should be put to death. But these documentaries made me think: "What if ...?" After all, these three were tried twice, and at both times found guilty. It just shows how weak trials are at convicting people - for the sole reason that fallible humans are running the show. Too many things could go wrong, and you could put a person to death with almost no hard evidence. That's why for the first time, I've been seriously doubting the death penalty.

    The most compelling character here was the Byers stepfather, and how he transformed from the second to third episode, from a hate-monger to a strong defender of justice. If this guy could change, "anybody" can change.

  3. I would have been with the crowds baying for blood. We usually think people are guilty once they have been caught and sent to trial. With so much hate for the accused it's next to impossible for them to receive a fair trial. I'd like to think I would judge them on the evidence if I was a juror, but who knows.

    I was all for arresting Byers after the second movie and was astounded when he passed the polygraph. It now looks as though Terry Hobbs had something to do with it. Whatever happens, the real killer is still at large. I just wonder if the Arkansas authorities are still investigating this crime or if they prefer to sweep it under the carpet.

    I too was one to praise the death penalty but mistakes are made and sometimes innocent people would be put to death to appease the populations blood lust and need for revenge.

  4. That's exactly what happened once when I was called for jury duty here. Before the jurors were chosen (it was a burglery case), somebody among the crowd said: "Well if he's here, he must be guilty!" Obviously the guy wasn't chosen as a juror, but thinking that some mindsets are out there is a scary.

    About the polygraph: actually it's mentioned in the third film that psychopaths have no remorse for what they've done, and that's why they can easily pass a polygraph test. As far as I've heard, I believe polygraph test results cannot be submitted in court as evidence, for the same reason.

    I too became very suspicious of Byers after the second film and Terry Hobbs after the third film, but again, that would be judging the guy, and falling into the same trap that got the West Memphis 3 convicted in the first place - convicting just based on how the image is shown to you, without hard evidence that would place the guy at the crime scene (except for the strand of hair used as ligature). I was listening to a interview with the filmmakers on NPR, and they said throughout the years, they had lost their objectivity as docmentarians, and became a subjective part of the case. How Byers acts in front of the camera is good evidence of this bias.

    In this case, I guess in addition to the people's blood lust and need for revenge, there was another confounding factor: the crime was so heinous, the police needed to show a culprit to the public as soon as they could, just to eliminate any sign of their own ineptitude. Hence, Gitchell's response to the question of how sure he was of Echols’ guilt, on a scale of one to ten, his reply being: "Eleven", even before any trial had started.

  5. MoMagic is more than enough reason for being persuded!I got them but just after begining I told myself: oh my God it's worse than into Abyss....it needs a strong mood and spirit to bear with that! such story about kids is almost so emotionally -traumatic needs a high level of strenght and power .See them as soon as I'm able to watch!

  6. Maryam,

    Trust me; these three films will certainly affect you. Can't wait to hear what you think when you're done.