Recommended: Mind Over Murder on HBO
What's Mind Over Murder About?
The 1985 murder of an elderly woman in Beatrice, Nebraska provokes decades of controversy as competing opinions and memories obscure the truth. Decades later, the creators of this very docuseries commission a play created from court documents, police interrogations, and other records related to the case. The play is performed by Beatrice residents, and the filmmakers record the response of the real people watching their lives unfold on stage.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
For its first five episodes, Mind Over Murder is a well-made, if somewhat traditional, true-crime documentary. We meet the family of the victim, the people who were wrongly imprisoned for killing her, and the police officers who got those people convicted. We spend time pondering the unreliability of memory and the human need to believe something we know is false. This is important, discomfiting stuff, and it's especially impactful because Wang lets her interview subjects talk at length, even if they contradict themselves or struggle to say what they mean. We're left with raw emotion and murky facts, which is what the murder of Helen Wilson has generated from the start.
And then, in the sixth and final episode, the series transforms into something entirely different. Without giving too much away, this is the episode that focuses on the play described above, and suffice it to say that for the people who have endured this crime and its aftermath, seeing their own words performed on stage has a thundering impact.
But Wang doesn't stop there. Just as the play destabilizes the story for the people of Beatrice, she lets those same citizens destabilize her film. At the very moment we might expect a tidy conclusion, some of her subjects begin directing their hurt and frustration at her, and she keeps their criticism in the episode. In refusing to present herself as a fully neutral observer, Wang acknowledges that nobody can enter the story of a heinous crime and come out unscathed. A catastophe, her film reminds us, can make all of us actors, observers, heroes, and villains. Nothing is clean. Nothing is simple. All of it must be faced.
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