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‘Crazy, Not Insane’ review: Controversial HBO doc asks if people are born evil

What makes some people kill?

Crazy, Not Insane is a true crime documentary in the strictest sense of the term. Documentarian Alex Gibney follows the career and work of Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis. Dr. Lewis is a pioneering psychiatrist whose views on serial killers and the death penalty have led controversy, mockery, and acclaim.

The running theme of the HBO documentary is whether people are born evil or if it is something that is a product of upbringing. Dr. Lewis was one of the first psychiatrists on a large scale to argue that killers were not inherently evil. To that end, she would travel the country and appear in court cases testifying on behalf of the defense. This led to derision from colleagues and while others thought she sought to justify murder. Eventually, it also saw a change in the way some looked at serial killers.

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Crazy, Not Insane explores Lewis’ theories through a series of archival footage and audio recordings. These moments are disturbing and fascinating to watch. Witnessing serial killers channel supposed “alters” will lead to a mixture of questions and reactions. After the initial shock, it is hard not to wonder what is real and what is an act.

This leads to the big philosophical question of the documentary. Are these killers sick or evil – and no matter the answer, should they just be judged for their actions? (For her part, Dr. Lewis feels they should be punished for their crimes. She just disagrees with the death penalty.) Due to Dr. Lewis‘s involvement,  Crazy, Not Insane takes a stance.  Wisely it does not try to answer any questions, however.

Opposing views are presented many times during the film. Park Dietz is a forensic psychiatrist who has sat on the opposing side of the some of the cases Dr. Lewis has been involved in. He considers some of her findings a “hoax”. The final moments of Crazy, Not Insane spectacularly demonstrate the documentary’s commitment to truth. Gibney makes the brave decision to show that even though Dr. Lewis may have been ahead of the curve, this does not mean she is infallible.

Arguably, the two biggest moments of Crazy, Not Insane come towards the end. The first is an interview Dr. Lewis had with Sam Jones, an executioner. It is a revealing talk that demonstrates the similarities between a serial killer who murders random people and someone who executes convicted murderers. In the most shocking moment, the Jones shows of a series of paintings he has done after each time he has “zapped“ a prisoner.

The documentary ends with Dr. Lewis’ final interview with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. Dr. Lewis had a series of interviews with Bundy over the years he was incarcerated. Before his execution in 1989, he asked to speak with Dr. Lewis.

Bundy asked to speak with Dr. Lewis since she was not interested in the lurid aspects of his crimes. She was more intrigued in the why as opposed to the how in regards to his acts. This leads to a startling revelation regarding Bundy’s childhood. This all leads to the finale of Crazy, Not Insane which validates the rights and wrongs of science while asking more questions about the constructs of good and evil created by society.

Murder most moist 

‘Crazy, Not Insane’ review: Controversial HBO doc asks if people are born evil
Crazy, Not Insane
It is a question that will be argued forever. Are people born evil or a product of their upbringing? This powerful documentary makes a case for one while also examining people's fascination with death.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Powerful interview footage
A look at killers that is never seen
Great animated scenes
Filled with gallows humor

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