"I think people love monsters, so when they get the chance they want to see them," says Amanda Knox pointedly in the conclusion a new documentary, "It's people projecting their fears."
Knox's point is psychologically sound in Amanda Knox (on Netflix), we tend to project our fears onto the blankest screens we can find. Amanda was a particular target for this kind of psychic defense mechanism: the thing she's most guilty of is being bland. It's no wonder it became so easy for the media to turn her into a sex demon. What I'm saying may sound cutting but I mean it: Amanda lived in a world where men were out to get her — because of misogyny, or because they stood to make a lot of money from it. In this world, men despised her for being young and pretty and having sex. The real moral of Amanda Knox's story is that even regular, rather uninteresting women are punished for their desires.
The story of Amanda Knox is so old, that telling it in miniature hardly constitutes a spoiler -- but here's your spoiler alert if you haven't followed the story down to the detail.
Amanda Knox is a regular college girl who did a semester abroad in Italy. She meets the love of her life and has a bunch of sex with him within the first few weeks of her romantic trip. One day, she comes home to find her roommate violently murdered, and suddenly she's the number one suspect despite having no motivation for the crime whatsoever. Sexist cops concoct a story of ritual killings, largely because they think of Amanda (now dubbed "Foxy Knoxy") as unchaste for consummating her new relationship at all. The story becomes a media sensation, with tabloids going full on Satanic Panic. Meanwhile, the police have entirely bungled the investigation by consistently contaminating evidence. Amanda somehow gets sent to jail, then exonerated when independent experts are called in. The incident becomes strangely nationalistic as local Italians begin to imagine Knox as utterly villainous. Amanda is shuttled back and forth to Italy for appeals and trials that will probably continue for the rest of her life.
Netflix's documentary, which combines found footage from the investigation and newly shot cinematics mixed in with interviews from the key players in the case, works hard to present a fair narrative of an unfair story. While the free floating shots of the quant Italian seaside and cutesy obessional narratives of Amanda's aggressively heteronormative romance are the weakest parts of the movie, the interviews are perhaps the most telling.
Amanda doesn't do herself many favors in these segments: clearly media coached for decades of trials and rather comfortable in front of a camera, there is something strangely inhuman about her throughout. Then you juxtapose her inhumanity with the straight-up cartoon villainy of public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who looks like a cross between Tim Burton's Penguin and one of the creepy psychic children from Akira. The documentary explores the bizarre logical leaps taken by Mignini in order to condemn Amanda, whose religious musings on the nature of heaven and hell are terrifyingly existential and justify his perceived moral righteousness. On the sidelines is the imminently sleazy Nick Pisa, a journalist with questionable ethics who sees no problem in the sensationalizing of the story. The documentary elevates this drama to almost Sartre-ian proportions, taking a sleazy murder and treating it with philosophical seriousness that have ramifications for the nature of morality itself.
Stylistically, Amanda Knox resembles Making a Murderer in terms of its sleekly designed aesthetic and perhaps duplicitous and seemingly neutral commitment to truth-seeking. Ultimately, these salacious topics are no more high-brow than reality TV but have courted more "serious" audiences, for some reason. For now, it's hard to tell if the film's implicit advocacy of Amanda's innocence is done by ignoring counter evidence (as became obvious in the fallout of Making a Murderer) or if this case is so patently ridiculous that no counter evidence actually exists.
"Either I'm a psychopath in sheep's clothing or I am you," says Amanda through deadened and tired eyes almost threateningly in the introudction to the documentary. Sure, she's kind of creepy. But Netflix does a pretty decent job of convincing the viewer that despite her scarily soulless delivery, thinking that Knox is a murderer is almost an act of sexism in and of itself.
Amanda Knox debuts on Netflix on September 30th. Check out the trailer, below.
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