By Daniel Stout
The new documentary, “Amanda Knox,” is exhilarating and haunting, yielding a paradoxical film; it dishes out ample joy and tension. Thematically, the truth-conquers-doubt story is difficult to pull off. Take Dateline and 20/20, the accused are inevitably guilty, or at least convicted. The film is less successful as a crime story than a psychological examination of mass hysteria, similar to the deindividuation of the Salem Witch Trials. Amanda Knox, a University of Washington student visiting Perugia, Italy, was accused of murder in 2007. The film is preceded by Knox’s memoir, “Waiting to be Heard” published in 2013.
No real evidence that Knox and her boyfriend murdered Meredith Kercher ever surfaced. She was found guilty of the stabbing, then innocent, then guilty again. Finally released from shackles, she returned to Seattle, only to face extradition efforts from the Italian government. These efforts recently ceased partly impeded by the Innocence Project. A reporter for the West Seattle Herald, Knox is rebuilds her life and narrates sections of the film, enhancing the dramatic tension, providing personal testimony of the terror of captivity and joy of newfound freedom. What are the factors underpinning a global media event where Italian crowds burned effigies, shouted profanities in the streets, and demanded justice, only to have the real killer eventually confess.
Relentless persecution of the innocent at all costs is a frequent subject of dramatic works. Hugo’s Les Miserables comes to mind as Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini makes Inspector Javert look like a lightweight. Despite insurmountable evidence, Amanda Knox must be punished in the name of the people, country, and God. In a late scene in the documentary, he’s psychologically and, perhaps pathologically, unwilling to concede the court erred.
As Latter-day Saints, it’s difficult to view Amanda Knox without reflecting on the The Mountain Meadows Massacre, an event where Christ-like community gives way to sinister social pressure and mob hysteria based on misinformation and collective paranoia. Although a somber film, it flickers with the light of those willing to stand up for truth despite the punishments of opposing the crowd.
At a more personal level, the Amanda Knox story elicits conversation about how rumor and gossip often expands into immense harm that isn’t easily reversed.