Directed by: Erin Lee Carr.
At what point does someone’s dark, twisted and frankly disgusting fantasies cross the line between being just being disgusting and actually becoming illegal. That’s the question at the heart of the new documentary Thought Crimes, which tells the story of Gilberto Valle – a New York City cop who was arrested after his wife discovered what he was spending his time online doing. He talked to several people about – all on various chat rooms online – about how he wanted to rape, kill, dismember and eat his wife – and many other women in his life. He insists that they were all just harmless fantasies – others insist that it represents an actual criminal conspiracy, since it was not always clear he was joking, and, in their opinion, he took steps to actually stalk at least one woman he talked about. But was he actually planning anything? Based on the evidence in the documentary, I still don’t know.
Thought Crimes is very relevant today, because in the past, people who had these types of fantasies had to keep them private – perhaps keeping a notebook or something similar. But with the internet, it allows you to connect with people from around the world who share your similar dark views. But does talking about these fantasies make them more likely to occur?
The film was directed by Erin Lee Carr, who had a lot of access to Valle, and basically lets him tell his side of the story. The story become a tabloid sensation – something to mock and look down on. But he never really got his side told. Carr is not wholly sympathetic to Valle – it certainly questions him on some of his more questionable assertions, and makes it clear at some points that he is clearly lying. It also has a sly, subtle sense of humor – at times cutting between the various online chats talking about cooking humans, and scenes of Valle himself cooking. It’s certainly not an innovative documentary in any real way – basically it’s made up of interviews, talking heads and screen shots of the conversations that were the basis of the various legal proceedings against him. It’s a simple, straight forward style – but it is mostly effective for the type of movie it is.
But the simple style makes the film feel more like a TV documentary – better than Dateline or 48 Hours, but certainly in the same ballpark. It’s not surprising that after a Festival premier earlier this year, the film went straight to HBO – that’s where the film belongs, and where it fits. The film has a fascinating subject, and doesn’t try to answer all the questions it raises – rather it allows the audience to come up with their own conclusions. It’s certainly not a great doc – but it’s an interesting one.