Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis Image

Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis

By Alan Ng | September 7, 2022

The world famously knows the journey and travels of the duo Lewis & Clark and their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Clark Richey’s feature, Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis, takes us right to the end of explorer Meriwether Lewis and the footnote, “death by suicide,” and attempts to find the truth behind his demise.

The story of Lewis’ death in 1809 is quite simple. Meriwether (Evan Williams) is now the governor of the upper Louisiana territory. While traveling across the wilderness with U.S. agent James Neely (John Schneider), Captain Tom (Marcus Dupree), and John Parnia (Lance E. Nichols), Neely conveniently separates himself from the group. Meanwhile, Lewis and crew find refuge at an inn run by Robert and Priscilla Grinder (Sonny Marinelli and Amye Gousset). Lewis rents a room for the night with Priscilla in charge as Robert is away on business.

During the night, she hears two gunshots from Lewis’ room, and the following day, Lewis is found dead outside the inn’s front door. Months later, Lewis’ friend and conservationist Alexander Wilson (Billy Slaughter) is appointed by President Jefferson to investigate his friend’s death. During an intense series of interviews with Robert and Priscilla, several accounts of that evening play out as the truth slowly evolves.

 The official account had always been that Lewis suffered from depression and mental fatigue. He was somewhat schizophrenic and shot himself in the head and the stomach and managed to crawl outside to finally bleed out. As Wilson’s questioning continues, several other theories are introduced. Was Robert really away on business? What was this “business?” Why did John Neely ditch Lewis earlier in the day? Were there any feelings between Lewis and Priscilla? Was Lewis, in fact, delusional? Priscilla is the only true witness to what happened that night, as Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis clearly shows.

“…hears two gunshots…Lewis is found dead outside the inn’s front door.”

Let’s be honest. I think the film will appeal to history buffs more than any other audience. Unlike your typical recounting-narratives story device, Lewis’ death isn’t retold from different perspectives or evolves to uncover the truth. Instead, the plot is a series of accounts of the various theories behind Lewis’ death. Interestingly, the reason for these disparate accounts is that all the suspects involved are clearly lying to cover up the truth and keep them out of jail. Whether this storytelling device interests you or not, this element of the film will most likely decide whether you ultimately like it or not.

Another intriguing aspect of Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis is that forensics and CSI-like investigations didn’t exist in 1809. In fact, a doctor would not perform an autopsy on Lewis until weeks later. So at the risk of spoilers for historical events, we still don’t truly know how Lewis died and if he was actually murdered, but the evidence suggests foul play; was it murder of passion or jealousy?

The performances center on Evan Williams and Amye Gousset as Lewis and Priscilla. Both actors show a fantastic range in their various personalities from account to account. Though I didn’t care much for Williams’ portrayal of a delusional Lewis, I did admire his more explorer/leader version. Likewise, Gousset’s performance ranges beautifully from the scared woman alone in the wilderness to the seductress. These performances set up the nuance of each variation of how Lewis might’ve died perfectly.

If you’re looking for a straightforward drama, you’re not going to find it with Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis. But if you want history and the feel of what a criminal investigation was like not so long after the birth of this nation, then you’ll find it in spades here.

Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis is now in theaters and comes to VOD on October 28, 2022.

Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis (2022)

Directed and Written: Clark Richey

Starring: Evan Williams, Amye Gousset, John Schneider, Billy Slaughter, etc.

Movie score: 6.5/10

Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis Image

"…[Williams and Gousset] show a fantastic range..."

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  1. Eileen Shea says:

    I wanted to watch it. I helped out in Hamilton, Montana in 2005-6 during the bicentennial of the L&W expedition. After the third repeat of an almost identical scene I had to stop watching. I hope they finally figure out exactly how he died. I don’t think shooting yourself twice is very probable

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