Movie Reviews

Crazy, Not Insane Review: Sympathy for the Devil

Crazy Not Insane Review: Sympathy for the Devil
Crazy, Not Insane is a fascinating look at the psychology of murder thanks to chilling details, a charming central figure, and a call for compassion.

Psychiatrist and author Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis recalls her memory of the Nuremberg Trials and asks how come I don’t kill? Crazy, not Insane delves into the troubled psyche of killers to explore why they commit bloody murder.

The documentary is a half portrait half investigation. Dr. Lewis is an expert in Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Through her work, starting with violent juvenile offenders, she posits that a combination of childhood trauma and neurological damage causes DID which leads to murderous impulses in adults. The documentary revisits a number of her high-profile cases to establish the connection. 

Alex Gibney uses a combination of cinema verite, charcoal sketch styled animation, archive footage, and home videos. Crazy, not Insane is unsettling yet insightful thanks to its procedural structure and excellent archive from its protagonist.

In Dr. Lewis’s first encounter with DID, she interviewed a convicted murderer named Marie Moore who kidnapped and tortured a teenaged girl.

After 2 hours of unsuccessful probing, she decided to leave until a voice behind her said “Don’t go!” When Dorothy turned, Marie has transformed from a shy soft-spoken woman into a wide-eyed deep-voiced “alter”. She held out her hand and introduced herself as “Billy”, who confessed that Marie was sexually abused by her father.

With this, along with other cases, Dr. Lewis’s findings show that serial killers develop alternate personalities. “Alter(s)” enables them to cope and avenge the pain they suffered from childhood.

These troubling events are balanced with her charming interviews and quaint home life. Dorothy is a sharp bubbly woman with a dark sense of humor that tells us she’s heard the worst, but she still has compassion for another person’s pain. We’re introduced to her colleagues, children, a hairless cat, and a house littered with notes and folders. Her literary voice is played by Laura Dern who reads her writings.

As the documentary progresses it’s clear that Gibney is a fan. While dissenting voices are included, the main criticism of DID is not mentioned – confirmation bias and therapy-induced diagnosis. “Alter(s)” comes out through hypnosis. One can argue that if a patient is highly susceptible to suggestion, a psychiatrist who is determined to find multiple personalities are going to find them.

As a result, the documentary feels like you are goaded to take Lewis’s side. She believes that you shouldn’t execute mentally unstable murderers for something they can’t control. Even if you accept her diagnosis, one can say that alters were created by the same brain, which means they’re still a part of the same person and the crime was committed by the same hands.

Gibney doesn’t broach these counterpoints but he is able to focus your attention on the “why” instead of the “how”. Convincing the government to rehabilitate instead of execute convicted murderers remains a tough proposition, even when Death Penalty doesn’t reduce heinous crimes. Dr. Lewis laments the fact that people in power – Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden make an appearance – and the legal system is regressing back to the Dark Ages.

Even if you don’t agree with Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, Crazy not Insane delivers a gripping narrative that’ll make you interested in her research.  While there is no conclusive answer, there is one clear takeaway from this documentary – retribution is not a humane solution.

Crazy, Not Insane

7.5

Crazy, Not Insane is a fascinating look at the psychology of murder thanks to chilling details, a charming central figure, and a call for compassion.

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