Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life is a true crime documentary by Werner Herzog that deals with the topic of capital punishment. I don’t really want to go into any specifics of the case it focuses on as it’s better to come into the film blind. To arouse your interest it deals with two young men / death-row inmates who are awaiting execution in a Texas penitentiary for three murders.
Herzog focuses not only on their crime but what lead to it. Sadly the usual ingredients for such activity are present: bratty kids, broken homes, unemployment, homelessness, violence, small town boredom etc. Through the use of interviews, police crime-scene footage, a sombre instrumental soundtrack and interviews with the victims’ family Herzog presents a story that is devastating to watch unfold. I knew nothing about the film and think it’s best viewed this way as I was astounded at the pointlessness and stupidity of their crimes, had I known about them beforehand I don’t think it would have been as shocking.
There’s a dialogue with family members of both the guilty and the victims’ friends and acquaintances so you get a really broad sense of how capital punishment affects the guilty and the innocent. Although Herzog states he is anti capital punishment he is fair in presenting both sides of the debate and never proselytizes.
Into the Abyss offers an insightful look into capital punishment and how it affects the prisoners, workers and families of both the perpetrator and the victim. A must see for any True Crime fan and an essential DVD in your Herzog collection.
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life is a double disc set that runs for 105 minutes and the bonus feature episodes run for 55 minutes, totaling 325 minutes worth of content. There’s also English subtitles for the hard of hearing.
As a bonus feature there’s Death Row, a four-part series made in conjunction with Into the Abyss. Death Row is essentially Herzog having a conversation with death-row prisoners. Each episode focuses on a different offender and Herzog examines their upbringing and how they ended up on death-row. This series is just as good as the film and would have been worthy of its own release, making this excellent value.
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.