Werner Herzog’s ‘Into the Abyss’

Conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime serve as an examination of why people – and the state – kill (IMDB).

In class we talked about Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss. The discussion questions are below if you click on the image.

into the abyss

For your review it would be great if you engage with the big questions the film poses rather than just critique the methods/techniques used in its production. In your answer you might like to include:

  • Your opinion(s) about the legitimacy of capital punishment
  • Your reasons for it
  • Some arguments and points made by different philosophers (especially Bentham and Kant)
  • Some mention of the case of Carla Faye that Captain Allan mentions
  • Some religious view points
  • A detailed and reasoned explanation as to which opinions you agree/disagree with and exactly why

The following might help:

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7 thoughts on “Werner Herzog’s ‘Into the Abyss’

  1. Into the Abyss is a movie that will leave you thinking about the death penalty for days. It is all about the people on death row, their crime, their families and their victims.

    At the start of the movie you see Michael Perry claiming he is innocent of the murders he was convicted guilty of. This surprises you as there is so much evidence against him for the murder’s. He goes on to tell a story about a canoe trip which his parents took him on. It sounded amazing but he went home because he was so scared of the bugs. So the man convicted of killing three people went home from a canoe trip because he was too scared of bugs doesn’t really add up. Michael Perry came across to me like a young boy denying he hit his sister over the TV remote and it really makes you think if this 28-year-old should be sentenced to death. One of my favourite quotes he said was “I’m going home or I’m going home to god”.

    Then you see the family of the victims that killed and they are in pieces. You realise that this boy and his friends have left a tornado of destruction behind them with the families of the victims by killing their loved ones over a car they wanted to steal. You also see one of the victims they killed wrapped in a cloth shoved in a bush beside the river back in the pitch black of the night. These sights make you think how someone could do that to a innocent human being and that Michael perry deserves the death penalty and his two friends that helped should be jailed for life.

    Another clip from the movie I found interesting was one of Michael perry’s friends who helped him with the murder, Jason Burkett, his dad spoke about Jason’s conviction. His dad is also in jail for numerous crimes including killing someone. He said that when you kill someone, before you do it the death penalty does not come straight into your head. It is a unnecessary punishment as it doesn’t stop people from killing others, it just ends a human life. This gets you thinking what is the point of the death penalty? – Justice? as you killed someone therefore you should be killed (tit-for-tat) or as a warning mechanism? to stop other’s form killing someone in the future.

    This movie leaves you with a lot of thoughts and questions. The points above are few of many arguments that is brought forward in the movie and I think the director, Werner Herzog, chooses a case that would deserve the death penalty the most and tries to make you think if it is really needed. What makes the film good is you get to see all the sides of the story and everyones views on the murder and the conviction so the viewer can make their own decision if the punishment was deserved. It was a very interesting film to watch and I recommend it to all.

  2. I personally think that capital punishment does not solve the problem of people thinking again about offending. As often offenders will only think about their present rather than their future. I also feel it is wrong as it doesn’t give the killer the chance to redeem themselves. Kant has similar views, that people should have a chance to improve. By killing the offender doesn’t help the family of the victim. Finally it is really hypocritical for people to say that killing someone is wrong but the punishment for killing someone else is the death penalty. Most Christians believe that the death penalty is wrong as one the 10 commandments is, “do not kill”. Also they believe that we shouldn’t ‘play God’, as only God has the power to decide when someone should die. Some Buddhists are mainly against death penalty as it goes against the first precept; don not harm any other living beings. Also as Buddhist believe in the concept of samsara, so an act of killing will gain you a lot of bad kamma, which affect both the offender and the person performing the action negatively, and will affect them in later lives.

  3. “Into The Abyss” Review

    I am still making my mind up about what I think about the death penalty. Part of me thinks it is awful and inhumane and should not be allowed, but then a small part of me thinks that in some cases the convicts don’t deserve to live and should be killed. However, it is extremely hard to find the line between which cases deserve the death penalty and which cases don’t.

    “Into The Abyss” explores a very interesting case because only one person was sentenced to death row, whereas the other murderer, who actually killed more people, was only given a life sentence. I find this very unjust and unfair because if one of them should die then the other should too. Either they both die or they both don’t.

    It is also very easy to be biased when you learn about the upbringing of Michael Perry and Jason Burkett and the environment they were living in because it is easy to blame their misfortune on that and hide the fact that they murdered three innocent people.

  4. Into the Abyss is a moving documentary that leaves the an audience questioning capital punishment in some states of America. The film follows the story of a young Michele Perry, who is facing execution in eight days time due to the fact that he committed triple homicide.
    Even though his crime was inhumane we are left with the question of if it is wrong or right to kill a killer? Are we just reaching his level? Are we as a society inhumane as well?
    Or is capital punishment the only way to “correct” our society from murderers?

    Personally I feel that capital punishment does not solve anything as I personally feel you can’t just “correct” a problem, killing a killer will not help the family of the victim, if anything we are just reaching their level. In some states of America for example Texas, they feel that by killing the killer of their loved ones will help the family in some way. How? By murdering the murderer it won’t bring their loved ones back. The last time I checked America was a Christian country, so surely they would follow the ten commandments so by having capital punishment we are breaking one of the commandments “DO NOT KILL.” Some Christians however argue that translated from the original hebrew bible it says “Do not murder” but surely they are murdering people, maybe they are not innocent but they are still Killing a Person. Following on from the fact that a murderer is still a person and a person not matter how inhumane they are still human and therefore still have human rights. Capital punishment breaches two of these human rights, “the right to life’’ and “the right to not be a subject to torture.” So therefore Capital punishment is not a correction unit it is a breach of human rights. My final point on the subject is that we as a society can not play God with people, we can’t have the responsibility to decide someone’s fate on if they live or die with them wanting to live, that is what those murders did and look what happened to them, they’re not happy, they don’t have a sense of relief. The death penalty is playing God, and it is not right.

    There are many viewpoints on the subject but either way we have to ask ourselves to most basic question. Is it morally right?

  5. The case that I studied on the death penalty was the movie into the abyss which included a man called Michael Perry who was given the death penalty on the 1st of July 2010 by being injected by a lethal injection. He was acused of making three murders on the 24th of October 2001. He was captured very shortly after, he had no time in hiding. In my opinion I think that Michael Perry should have been given a life sentence in jail instead of being given the death penalty. Most people will agree on the fact that spending most of your life time in jail is very tough. Inmates may just want their lives ended. Even some going to the extent of committing suicide. Michael Perry was acused of making those three murders, so he should the one to suffer. He shouldn’t have been left off easier by being executed.

  6. “Into The Abyss” Review

    The documentary “Into The Abyss” by the acclaimed director Werner Herzog follows the story of two boys convicted of the same crime, but with vastly different punishments. Michael Perry and Jason Burkett were convicted for the murders of Sandra Stotler, Adam Stotler and Jeremy Richardson, supposedly all over a red Camaro that Perry and Burkett were trying to steal.

    Herzog maintains his opposition to the death penalty by using this case, one which stresses the benefits for capital punishment, to try and show the viewers the immorality of taking a rational human life, no matter what the crime. By taking a life for a life, nothing is solved, bar from yet another human life being lost. By choosing who gets to live and die, we are effectively ‘playing God’, deciding who gets to live and who dies. How does one decide the severity of a crime? Does one person’s murder mean more than another? So much so that for the same crime, one will be death and another a life sentence? This is explored in this film, having both boys being convicted of the same crime, yet Perry receives the death penalty and Burkett receives a life sentence. This is arguably only because Burkett’s father broke down at Burkett’s hearing, touching two of the people on the Jury, therefore a unanimous vote for the death penalty was not reached.

    The death penalty is carried out by a lethal mix of chemicals injected into the bloodstream by a team of individuals. Someone who is completely sound of mind and sane who watches and participates in the killing of multiple people is going to be affected. Not only is the convict’s family being affected by their death, it will psychologically impact the people who have to do it. This is shown with Captain Fred Allen and his episode with the execution of the notorious killer Karla Faye. Someone who is totally sane is going to be psychologically damaged by the repeated witness of murder.

    In sentencing someone to death, there is always the risk in someone actually being innocent in the end. This is not necessarily the case in Perry’s story, but there have been multiple cases in which the innocence of convicts have been questioned after they have been executed; the most well known of these probably the case of Carlos DeLuna, which through multiple investigations has been proven innocent, with the mistaken identity of Carlos Hernandez, who is believed to have actually committed the murder DeLuna was accused of. It was found that police did not fully investigate and did not have sufficient evidence to convict DeLuna, yet convicted him anyway.
    On the other hand, the death penalty is an effective deterrent. It does not completely eradicate the problem, but does significantly reduce it. People are less likely to commit a crime if they know that they will face such serious consequences as to losing their life over it.

    It can cost between $20,000 and $40,000 to keep one person in prison per year, which is paid by taxpayers. The death penalty would reduce the amount the taxpayers have to pay, as they would just have to pay for the prisoner to be executed. These people have committed a crime, a serious and horrible crime, and the public that this person has affected are having to pay for him to have food on the table and a roof over his head. This person does not deserve all that due to the crimes they have committed.

    In the end, you have to decide whether the pros of capital punishment outweigh the cons of it, and whether it feels morally wrong to you. There are valid reasons for both, which is why the world is so divided on it, it just depends on which side you are on.

  7. “ Into the Abyss” is a film on the death penalty directed by Werner Herzog who tries to convice the audience that the death penalty should be illegal. The film “Into the Abyss” is about two people who are on death row. This film convices me that the death penalty is wrong and is an excuse for people to be killed. The death penalty is a way for the wrongdoers to escape when they should really be suffering by keeping them alive. The death penalty for many people gives them reassurance e.g. that the murderer is not going to kill them.

    A utilitarian would say that the death penalty is good because it brings a greater good to the majority of people. The main arguments for the death penalty is that can be used as a deterrent, to stop people believing that they can get away with murder with going to prision. The death penalty is also cost-effective as it is saving the country lots more money than keeping them in prisions which takes a huge amount of money. The death penalty is also used as protection for the citizens of the country to reassure them that they are safe and no harm can be done to them.
    However the otherside to this argument would be that we as humans do not have the right to judge who dies and lives as it is God who decides because he created life. By not having the death penalty it would mean that they can change their ways and become a better person. God forgives those who do wrong so why can’t we? Wanting the killing of someone is fueled by fear and anger not because we think it is right.

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