“If I talk about it, it gets better”
That’s what Conrad Roy III said about his social anxiety. Speaking to his computer in a self-prescribed therapy session, Roy laid his feelings bare. At the age of 18, he had deep suicidal thoughts that no one else knew about, as is often the unfortunate case. So he recorded himself and said whatever he was feeling. Speaking the words into existence relieved some of the pressure, putting it out into the open to lessen the weight. Then one day, after encouragement from his girlfriend, he killed himself.
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter
Director: Erin Lee Carr
Release Date: TBD
I Love You, Now Die is a deep-seated look at the ensuing court case against Michelle Carter, Roy’s girlfriend. Though the two only met in person a handful of times, there were constant texts and phone calls as their relationship grew. Roy found her as someone to trust and share his dark thoughts with, and as they became more ingrained, Carter encouraged him to end his life. The litigation that took place to determine Carter’s level of involvement is one that, prior to this incident, had no precedent for. What hangs on the resolution is something that can be used as a baseline for future cases. Is a text message telling someone to die incriminating enough to be sent to jail? This is the ongoing debate.
In the two-part documentary, director Erin Lee Carr breaks down the story into the prosecution and defendant point of views. Part one dives into Roy’s life as a kid who loved boats and being out on the water near their Massachusetts home. This is where Roy’s laptop therapy sessions are shown and open viewers up to what was going on inside his head. Part two takes a look at Carter and her time in high school on the softball team, including testimonies with those who knew her at the time. All of these testimonies confirmed that Carter was desperate for friendship and attention, often going too far and making interactions awkward. Both were on medication.
As Carr unravels the tale, the spiral goes deeper in revelations. The story alone is enough to draw a viewer in, and how it unfolds is unsettling and shocking. During the closing arguments of the case, Carr chooses to splice the arguments by the prosecution and defendant together, creating a riveting back and forth as they argue each other’s points. It’s an intense build-up for an already intense case.
Carr and her editing team did a solid job in bringing the texts to life. With so many to comb through and share in the film, it would be easy for them to get lost or for viewers to get bored with constant reading. This happens occasionally in the film, but the given circumstances help ensure viewers are less apt to skip over the projected text. The chosen messages mixed with innocent B-roll background images then intertwined with courtroom footage and interviews helped break apart the monotony of reading flashing texts. It’s one thing to hear the texts in a courtroom, but it provides another level of understanding when viewers hear the iMessage or Android alert as a text pops up on screen between Roy and Carter.
Through trial footage, Carr interviews Roy’s family and friends (Carter and her family declined interviews). They admit there were signs they should have seen, but didn’t. There was a physical altercation between Roy and his father, Conrad Roy Jr, that involved the police. His parents’ divorce sending him into a deeper hole. The doc provides extended looks at both sides of the court proceedings, and by the end, viewers are left wondering. How culpable is someone via text? Is it the same as telling someone to jump from a bridge without actually pushing them off? This is where the eventual ruling and appeal come into play.
At the end of the screening, Carr came onstage and asked the audience to raise their hand if they think Carter was guilty of manslaughter. She then asked those who think she’s innocent to raise their hands. The decision was split, 50/50. There are certainly questions to be asked about why Carter did and said what she did and said, but when it comes to the law itself, evidence needs to be without refute. It leaves the viewer filled with emotions about how someone could say the things Carter did to someone she claimed to love. Was she using Roy in her own, twisted way, or did she believe she was actually helping him? How at fault is she if he was the one who took his own life, albeit at her encouragement?
There’s rarely a dull moment in the documentary, which is a difficult thing to do when attorneys and judges are spouting legalese, but because the case is groundbreaking, and clearly demonstrates how technology and cyberbullying as jumped past any legal precedent already established. It’s certainly a challenging film to watch knowing it centers around two teenagers who have grown up with texting as an everyday norm. For some the way they interact may seem strange, for others, it might be all too common.
It also shows the state of mental health in teens. During the court proceedings, there was an argument over whether or not the mediation Carter and Roy were on may have incited thoughts of depression or delusion. An expert witness admits that what Carter said to Roy and other was crazy, but that he felt she was doing what she thought was right. Carr’s ability to conceptualize a courtroom into a story of two teens who needed help and didn’t get it is both sad and maddening. Two lives could be drastically different today.
I Love You, Now Die does its best to get both sides, but it’s difficult to do when one side declines any involvement. Even so, with the information and footage available (including an amazing piece in Esquire), Carr is able to provide evidence from both viewpoints to create a divided audience. There’s a section in the documentary where locals in Massachusetts provide their opinion on the case, and they too are split. I Love You, Now Die keeps viewers on their toes as truth after truth is revealed in increasingly surprising fashion. It’s meant to inform and arouse discussion, and in that regard, it succeeds in a maddening way.