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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

January 12, 2012 at 8:56 AM

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” on HBO tonight

(For the record: this is my first blog from the new Seattle Times location, where I’m sitting with quite a nice view of Queen Anne Hill, and where I began this chilly morning with a march across the parking lot pushing my desk chair and a bookcase balanced on top of it, because the movers seemingly forgot them back in our old location — across the street — and I am not a patient woman at this hour of the morning. All is chaos here, but I’m just going to blog away and ignore the weird furniture situation that surrounds me. LA LA LA . . . .)
Tonight at 9 p.m., HBO will air the third and possibly final (though who knows?) documentary about the West Memphis Three: “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.” For those not familiar with the story, a quick summary: In 1993, three little boys were found brutally murdered in a wooded area outside West Memphis. A month later, three teenage boys were arrested and charged with the crime. All pled not guilty, but were convicted, and since then have maintained their innocence from behind bars, while many have worked on their behalf and uncovered much new evidence in their support. Documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky followed the case from the beginning, capturing the crime and trial in “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996, following up with “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” in 2000, which presented new evidence, and finally with this third film, which made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall — just after the three defendents were released in a surprise move, in which they reluctantly agreed to plead guilty in order to have their sentences reduced to time served.
It’s a haunting, disturbing story, both for the horror of the crime and the appalling way that “justice” was served. Watching the third film — which summarizes much of the first two, so you don’t need to have seen the previous films in the trilogy to apppreciate the final one — is difficult, even as we know that the three unjustly accused men are finally free. It’s haunting to see the receding hairlines and deepened voices of the trio, who became adults behind bars as nearly 20 years slipped away; it’s rage-inducing to hear a Memphis official saying that since the men have pleaded guilty (in a legal maneuver called an Alford plea, in which they can still maintain their innocence), there are no plans to reopen the case — this despite a landslide of evidence that the wrong men were arrested. “Paradise Lost 3,” on the shortlist for the Oscar for best documentary, brings the story to an end, if not a resolution, and stands as a remarkable testament to the power of film to change lives. (Damien Echols, one of the accused men who waited years on death row, credits the filmmakers with keeping interest in the case alive — and thus keeping him alive.) And though I question the filmmakers’ use of graphic crime-scene photos of the victims’ naked bodies — it feels exploitative, particularly when repeated — I was moved by the film’s final dedication to those three little boys, whose killer(s) may well never be found.

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