Each story has two sides. Director Erin Lee Carr is trying to tell both in “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter.”
The HBO documentary follows the trial named, in which Michelle Carter was tried for and convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend Conrad Roy to commit suicide. A prominent detail of the trial which was widely publicized is Carter telling Roy to “get back in” his carbon monoxide filled truck after he had gotten scared. Told in two parts, The Prosecution and The Defense, the story unfolds into a far more twisted narrative than its premise would indicate.
The Prosecution details the pain felt by Roy’s family after his suicide, painting a specific image of Carter: a vicious, manipulative young woman who wanted attention so badly that she was willing to have someone die for it. Respectfully, Roy’s own mental health issues are explored and dissected to determine the nature of their relationship and the conversations they were having.
The opposite occurs in The Defense. Carter’s mental health is parsed to jagged fragments which are meant to shred the prosecution’s case against her character. The second half of the documentary is almost entirely spent analyzing the ramifications of two ill people, isolated, with no one but each other for comfort.
One of the documentary’s greatest assets is the use of text messages and tweets from both parties to mimic the experience of watching their incredibly destructive conversations unfold. It is clear from these exchanges that Carter and Roy had different conceptions of their relationship’s nature. This drives home further the idea of duality which Carr executes to perfection.
The interviews Carr had access to are incredibly powerful. The film features one woman, unnamed, giving her opinion — the public opinion — on the case in a statement succinctly, describing Carter as a “90210 piece of crap.” Roy’s grandfather describes joyful experiences which happened weeks before his death as tears pour down his face.
Where there was a gentleness in discussing the mental health of both Carter and Roy, there is no such delicacy in relating how this case was viewed by both the outside world and those who had intimate knowledge of the case. This creates an effect similar to the text messages, drawing the audience into the speculation which still surrounds the case, as there is no concrete record of Carter telling Roy to reenter his carbon monoxide filled truck other than Carter saying she did.
The relationship between Carter and Roy as explored by “I Love You Now Die,” in both parts, makes an interesting case for reevaluating the way mental health issues are discussed, treated and medicated. The court psychiatrist heavily featured in the latter half takes great care to emphasize the poor quality of both Carter and Roy’s mental states as well as the effects of their medications on their relationship, distorting reality and increasing suicidal thoughts.
Carr’s exploration of truth’s necessary duality leaves no solid conclusion. The truth may very well lie somewhere in the middle — that these were two sick people brought together by “tragic circumstances.” Despite a true conclusion, “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter” is still worth a watch.
“I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs. Michelle Carter”