Directed by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Paradise Lost is a story centered around a small town and their intolerance for people who are different than the rest. Three young teens (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin & Jesse Misskelly) are arrested after one of them gives a confession stating they sexually ravaged and murdered three little boys; Jesse Misskelly is the first to be tried, as he gave the confession to police. Immediately we are able to figure out that Jesse is not a strong mind- his defense determines that he was forced into confessing, mainly due to the fact that he has a very low I.Q, somewhere in the 70s. From here we watch as these three teenagers are persecuted because they wear black, listen to Metallica, and read books about the occult and Pagan religion. Damien Echols is tarred as the leader of the group and is eventually found guilty, being sentenced to die via lethal injection. What's amazing about the whole case is that there is no physical evidence tying the three teens to these murders; the Prosecution relies solely on the fact that Jesse made a confession, and then drawing off the fact that they claim these young men were under the influence of a Satanic cult (Fact: FBI and other law enforcement agencies have never successfully been able to link a crime in the United States to a Satanic cult or ritualistic ceremony). This movie is a horror movie in it's own right. We also get the distinct feeling by the end that Mark Byers, the stepfather of Christopher Byers (victim), had something to do with the deaths of these boys; at one point, he gives the filmmakers from HBO a 'gift' which is an old knife. When the filmmakers discover blood on the knife, they hand it over to police (blood that was taken for a sample was found in the hinges of the knife, seemingly a difficult and awkward place to get blood in); the police test it finding Byers' blood type, which is also Christopher's blood type, but determine it to be inconclusive and eventually they get rid of the knife. The blatant disregard for protocol and sensibility on the part of the police, as well as the judge and prosecutors, is absolutely astonishing.
It's funny, because if the police came to my house and thought like the people from this town they would probably take me in for questioning because I have books about the Nazis, as well as The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. I have these because I like to read about these things- there is a huge line between reading for interest, and reading with intent to use the material for wrongdoing. What else I find funny is the fact that if these people that are prejudiced against freedom of expression and thought would read these books (specifically LaVey's book), they would discover that most of it is almost the opposite of what they think. The Satanic Bible is so far removed from what these God fearing people believe it to be that it's ridiculous. This movie further pushes the fact that there are still those who cannot, and will never, accept others for their differences. If I had lived in that town, it could be me sitting behind bars for a crime I didn't commit.
One thing in particular that really struck me about this movie is the fact that there are three of these teenagers accused. Did the prosecutors and police ever think for a second about the number of murders (of this nature) that happen involving three killers? The odds of having two people come together to murder is very slim (proven by the documented cases of coupled killers, such as Fred & Rosemary West, Bonnie & Clyde, Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka), let alone three people will the same will, the same desire to kill. That right there is enough for me to have to think long and hard about, and I have. Another thing is the fact that none of them even seem remotely guilty. Most times, you can pick apart someone's behaviour when it comes to criminality and you can start to spot some indications of where this murderous ambition comes from; yet when we watch these teens talk about the proceedings, their innocence, each other, it doesn't look anything like watching three killers talk, it looks like watching three high school kids. Three innocent high school kids. Yet Damien Echols is sentenced to die, appeal after appeal going down the drain.
This is a very important movie about indifference to the freedom of expression and interest, justice, and small town life. I rated this movie a 5 start rating because it is an amazing documentary that needs to be seen by everyone. If we do not protect our freedom to be different than others, then this could and will happen more often. It's sad to think that these guys will never get out of jail, and all due to the fact that they wore a little black and read some weird books. I urge everybody to follow this link: WM3.org. After you watch the movie, go to the website and pitch in- you can donate, you spread the word, you can even write a letter to the boys (The West Memphis Three, as they're being called). I wrote a letter, mostly directed to Damien, and I hope that the three of them can read it; I tried to send along my hope, but I know that being behind those bars knowing they are innocent is enough to suck the life away from them. I can only hope that filmmaking like this will prevent and educate.