Nick Broomfield's excellent documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer is equally about the society that produced Aileen Wuornos as it is about her.
“Aileen,” calls out Nick Broomfield near the end of Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, “I’m sorry.” At that moment, she’s being led away by two prison guards, following her final interview with the filmmaker. Apparently furious that the questions have veered toward the murders for which she’s on Florida’s death row, Wuornos has cut off the meeting, exercising the only control she has over her experience at that moment. She turns back to the camera one last time and raises her middle finger.
Screening at Stranger Than Fiction on Thursday, 23 April and followed by a Q&A with Broomfield, the documentary is unrelenting, like all of Broomfield's work, exposing the many failures that have led to this moment. As it reveals this moment of rage and breakdown, it also lays out the ways justice and cultural systems have brutally produced and punished Wuornos. She has demonstrated obvious insanity during their conversations, his film footage bearing out his observation that “It was really pretty incredible that Aileen had sailed through the psychiatric interview the day before.” Then Broomfield gets a call from Wuornos’ best friend, Dawn Botkins, who assures him, “She’s sorry, Nick. She didn’t give you the finger. She gave the media the finger, and then the attorneys the finger. And she knew if she said much more, it could make a difference on her execution tomorrow, so she just decided not to.”
As so much legal and social posturing is now underway regarding a similar gesture by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it's worth remembering how such moments are made by media. Broomfield's brilliant film poses difficult, often unanswerable questions, suggesting other ways of looking at this sensational, tragic, and still troubling saga, as much about the culture that produces and fears, consumes and condemns an Aileen Wuornos as it is about this Aileen Wuornos.
See PopMatters' review.