This review was originally published on January 21, 2012…
In light of the Paradise Lost trilogy, there is always going to be an undercurrent of comparison and contrast, maybe even a questioning of necessity, for another documentary film about the West Memphis Three. I can see those types of reviews being written, and I can even sense my own cynical arguments of motivation coming in and out of such a conversation. But that’s not this review, and that’s not my goal here.
I’m not going to tell you which documentary is a better one. The honest truth is that I personally feel that anything that brings to light the injustices inherent in the story of the West Memphis Three is worth consideration. By staying vigilant in the present based upon our knowledge of the injustices of the past, perhaps we can create a better future or at least prevent the repetition of previous mistakes.
To that end, Amy Berg’s West of Memphis is a must-see film, and the story of the West Memphis Three is one that should never be forgotten, even when it has felt as of recent to have some form of closure. Until the culprit behind the murders of Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore is brought to justice and the wrongfully convicted Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Damien Echols are exonerated, I don’t know that closure can be had.
Additionally, I can’t pretend to be some impartial reviewer capable of objective thought about all of this. I’ve followed the West Memphis Three story, and felt strongly of their innocence, for a while. Having had the opportunity to spend a couple hours with Jason Baldwin during the 2011 Indie Memphis Film Festival only heightened that belief, and also added a level of personal attachment that had previously been theoretical. I am not impartial here.
Despite that, and the knowledge of where this story has lead to present, I thought that watching West of Memphis would enable me to get back to a more objective, perhaps emotionally distant viewing, as I thought I had had time to process my own emotions about it all, but I was mistaken. The honest truth is that at times the anger that welled up in me over the repeated injustices, the improper judiciary and police conduct and even the ignorance in the face of new evidence accelerated my own frustration to near tears. If anything, I am more devastated now.
Justice has not been served. The fact that the West Memphis Three had no other option than to put in an Alford Plea, pleading guilty while maintaining their own innocence (confused; I’ll make it simple: it was face-saving bullshit by Arkansas), in order to get released from prison after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment continues to anger me. Even typing about it has required repeated pauses to collect myself. The one responsible for the three murders has not been convicted, nor does it seem that the State of Arkansas ever really tried to solve the murders. And now that the WM3 are free, and Arkansas got their guilty plea, there doesn’t seem to be any official impetus to ever solve the murders.
It is hard to put my emotion aside. I find comfort in knowing that the West Memphis Three are no longer behind bars, and that films like the Paradise Lost series and West of Memphis, as well as the tireless efforts of so many that believed in the WM3, have created a document that, no matter how anyone tries to spin it, including the state of Arkansas, will always exist to offer up a more plausible truth. And maybe that’s as close to justice as we’re going to get, but I can’t pretend that it doesn’t break my heart to think as much.