CRAZY NOT INSANE – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Academy award-winning film documentarian Alex Gibney has brought us an intriguing new documentary, Crazy Not Insane. The film tells the story of psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Lewis. She has dedicated her forty-year long career to the study of murderers, seeking answers to the question of why we kill. She has worked with over twenty-two serial killers such as Arthur Shawcross and Ted Bundy. This provocative documentary is like a scientific detective story. Delving into Dr. Lewis’s methods of looking beyond the grisly details of each homicide and instead, looking into the killer’s heart and mind.
The film profiles the well-respected psychiatrist and author. She began her career working with children, with a specialty in violent juvenile offenders. Her work with the aftermath of childhood physical and sexual abuse led her to explore how trauma in childhood combined with some neurological damage can sow the seed of murderous impulses in adults.
Her findings led her to become an expert in dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). She was trained that it did not exist. However, the more time she spent with these killers, the more proof she discovered that it did. Backed by medical science that was now available to the psychiatric profession, such as MRIs of the brain, Dr. Lewis could prove her findings. It shows direct correlations between the damage done emotionally to the abused children and the physical damage done to their brains by shaking, abuse, and other horrible acts.
The director Alex Gibney, when asked why he wanted to tell this story, is quoted as saying: “As a filmmaker, I was hooked when I learned that Dorothy had audio and videotapes of her interviews with murderers and serial killers. In those tapes, you can hear evidence of the childhood antecedents of violence, and even see those afflicted with multiple personality disorder switch from one persona to another.” He goes on to say, “Just as important to me is how the tapes reveal Dorothy’s skill as an interviewer: empathetic but always probing, curious and never shocked, playful but always serious about unearthing, methodically, vital details. What she discovers is never intended to excuse horrific acts of violence. Rather, as a psychiatric detective, she seeks to explain why killers kill, so we might take steps to stop the killing.”
Crazy Not Insane is at its best when showing Dr. Lewis’s research with some pretty scary people. The director chose to use an eclectic mix of cinema verité, videotapes of psychiatric evaluations, hand-drawn animation, and home movies to explore the human mind’s complexities. These choices add to Dr. Lewis’s portrait and her work as she explores places others are unwilling to go. I actually found myself feeling sympathy for the supposed devils she works with as she proposes they’re not merely evil. She has made a compelling case for the belief that murders are made, not born.
I give Crazy Not Insane a 4-star rating. It’s the kind of film that you’ll be discussing days after the credits have rolled.
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Selig Rating: 4 Stars
Running Time: 1hr 57min
Release: Debuting November 18th HBO and HOB Max
Starring: Laura Dern, Richard Burr, Dr. Dorothy Lewis, Catherine Yeager
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.