The phenomenon of psychotic men with dissociative identity disorder (DID) - also known as multiple personality disorder (MPD) - is examined through the eyes of Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, an American psychiatrist and leading expert in the field, in the new HBO documentary, "Crazy, Not Insane."
In what amounts to a fascinating study of deranged men throughout American history, the indisputable star of "Crazy, Not Insane" is its main subject, Dr. Lewis. She's a lauded author, and professor of Psychiatry at Yale and New York University. She's also been called to the stand countless times over the years as an expert witness in cases dealing with DID/MPD, and has scrutinized several death row inmates to determine the "why" of many heinous and unthinkable crimes.
Through Dr. Lewis, "Crazy, Not Insane" walks us through her methodology and career. Through video-taped conversations with many of the men she's called in to examine, we see her interact with empathy no matter which "personality" she happens to be communicating with at the time.
As she explains, the one thing that all of these "multiples" have in common, are physical brain abnormalities, usually caused from severe trauma experienced at a young age. As a sort of defenses mechanism, the human mind often will create for itself some different personalities, meant to protect the true personality from insufferable pain.
The legal argument is, that many of the crimes these men (and yes, it's mostly men studied in the film) commit are often some twisted expression of self-defense, and that it may not be their "fault," a word used loosely here. In other words, if a person suffering from DID/MPD murders someone, they of course should be locked away forever, but the focus of their incarcerated life should be rehabilitation. Instead, many of these men are sentenced to death.
The death penalty argument in American has been going on nearly as long as our country has existed. In the case of famous serial killer Ted Bundy, Dr. Lewis suspects that he may have actually been a "multiple," although this was never confirmed...and the fact that he was put to death may have robbed scientists like her from further, important studies that might have helped us have a richer understanding of the problem.
Documentarian Alex Gibney (who has been on a role lately with the HBO documentary series, "Agents of Chaos" and the COVID-19 pandemic response film, "Totally Under Control") keeps a tight focus on Dr. Lewis and does a great job of showing some of the irony and hypocrisy at play in our society. Mental health has never been given the proper attention of funding, but there is something insane (crazy?) when he shows mobs of people outside of prisons, celebrating when it is confirmed that a death row inmate has been officially put to death. Here these people are, cheering on a murder, because they feel it is justified.
Gibney presents Dr. Lewis as an expert - which she most definitely is - but also includes interviews with a few of her critics who discount many of her claims. Even Dr. Lewis herself admits in the doc that there were times that she "got it wrong" with her diagnoses. This sort of thing is not an "exact" science. But Gibney, like in "Totally Under Control," is too caught up in the explanation. The victims of many of these terrible crimes, for example, are hardly given any daylight at all in the film. To them, I'd assume, they could give a damn whether or not the killer of their loved one was DID or not...they just want to watch the mother-effer burn. In the case of Bundy for example, Dr. Lewis wanted him kept alive for scientific reasons, but if one of his victims was your daughter, or wife, wasn't his death the proper closure? These debate rages on.
The word "evil," Dr. Lewis tells us, is a concept created by religions and is not based in science. People are not born evil. Murderers are man-made. Dr. Lewis gives insight into these minds of madness, and you'll come away from this movie with a deeper understanding of human nature, regardless of political belief.
"Crazy, Not Insane" is crazy-good and you'd be insane not to watch it.
Genre: Documentary, Crime.
Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes.
Featuring Dr. Dorothy Lewis.
Written and Directed by Alex Gibney ("Totally Under Control," "Citizen K," "Agents of Chaos" HBO mini-series, "Going Clear: Scientology & The Prison Belief").
"Crazy, Not Insane" premieres on HBO on Wednesday, November 18th, 2020, and streaming on HBO MAX.
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