True Crime Tuesdays: I Love You, Now Die
Helen Archer | On 26, Nov 2019
On Tuesdays, our resident true crime obsessive gets their fix with a documentary film or series. We call it True Crime Tuesdays.
When Sky Crime launched in October 2019, marketing itself as the “home of premium true crime”, some voiced concerns that it wouldn’t have enough quality content to fill its schedule. And while slightly less salubrious programmes do proliferate, the channel is also screening some of the best of the genre. Recent box sets The Jinx and The Case Against Adnan Syed sit side-by-side with newer films, including Liz Garbus’ Who Killed Garrett Phillips?, Kemper on Kemper, and The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. One of its highlights, though, is HBO’s I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter.
While the overwrought title is reminiscent of a slightly exploitative B-Movie, this is actually a thoughtful documentary which takes a fresh look at a much-publicised Massachusetts prosecution. Directed by Erin Lee Carr (whose previous work includes Mommy Dead and Dearest), the two-parter reports on the case brought against Michelle Carter, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter after the death of her 18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy in 2014. Accused – and found guilty – of encouraging his suicide, she was ultimately given a 15-month jail term, which she is currently serving.
The film crew had sole access to the 2017 court proceedings, and in many ways this is set out as a typical courtroom documentary. While the first episode deals with the prosecution side of the case, and the story as it was laid out in the press – which depicted Carter as a sullen Black Widow figure, goading her depressed boyfriend to take his own life – the second episode can be read as the defence. Here, the nuances are laid bare, and Roy and Carter are personalised in a way that highlights the cartoonish nature of the reports at the time.
Carter and Roy’s two-year relationship was played out mainly digitally – the couple only met in person a handful of times. Both were messed-up teens. Roy had issues related to his parents splitting up and his relationship with his father, who, by all accounts, was a harsh disciplinarian. He was also on an anti-depressant which has been proven to cause suicide ideation, and his video diaries, included in the programme, attest to his psychological condition. Carter, meanwhile, had trouble fitting in with her high school peers, suffered from a long-term eating disorder, and had spent time in a psychiatric facility.
While Conrad’s parents are interviewed, still raw with grief, the Carter family, including Michelle, declined to take part in the documentary. And yet much of her state of mind can be gleaned from the information in the programme. The text messages the couple exchanged flash onscreen throughout and, by the end of the second episode, it’s clear that Carter’s fantasy life was rich, and that she over-related to tales of troubled teens and doomed love in popular culture, to the point of passing off overwrought lines from Glee as her own. She yearned for acceptance from her classmates, who, sensing her neediness and desperation, distanced themselves from her. She clung to her relationship with Roy, who could treat her cruelly. She was also known to exaggerate for attention – a fact that was used against her in court. People turned against her even as she organised posthumous fundraisers and memorials for Roy, seemingly basking in the validation of her friends and thankful that, finally, she was being accepted. Eventually, she was undone by a text she had sent not to Roy, but to one of her classmates after his death, in which she described her last conversation with him.
Suicide is a delicate subject matter. Expert advice acknowledges that its causes are complex, and that no one thing is responsible for someone’s decision to take their own life – so it is a perplexing that not only was this case brought, but won. It creates an unsettling precedent for future judiciary actions, and goes against the law of the state of Massachusetts, where encouraging a suicide is not deemed a crime. But beyond the baffling legalities and ethics of the case, I Love You, Now Die is a detailed look at the way in which society can pathologise teenage girls as the scheming, manipulative harborers of dark and dangerous passions, seeking out innocent victims on whom they can practice their dark arts. Ultimately, it is an affirmation that in life, the truth is much more messily human.
I Love You, Now Die is available on Sky Crime. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. (An Entertainment Pass auto-renews at £8.99 a month until 1st September 2020, £9.99 thereafter unless cancelled.)