Gaslighting A Key Component Explored in the Amanda Knox Documentary

It was the legal trial of the decade–and, as it was bombastically billed by the media, “Italy’s trial of the century.” Amanda Knox and her boyfriend of five days, Raffaele Sollecito, were the most classic twenty-first century cases of being at the wrong place at the wrong time–victims of a modern day witch hunt, if you will. But, obviously, more Amanda than Raffaele.

With that unintentionally mischievous look that captivated the world and allowed room for interpretation of her guilt, Amanda Knox, directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, is the first time the anti-heroine of her own narrative has been able to speak for herself. And the line she strategically chooses to open with is, appropriately, “Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing or I am you.” By the end of the documentary, fastidiously researched by co-writers McGinn and Matthew Hamachek, those with compassion will see that she’s all of us. Anyone could have been in her position, most especially–to be honest–a woman. Circumstances of oblivion, naïveté and, worst of all, a misogynistic country brought upon very little in the way of good luck for Knox.

However, before Amanda Knox was painted by the tabloid-leaning press as “Foxy Knoxy,” she was just a normal college student, a garden variety banal Pacific Northwesterner. That is, until the one “special” quality about her, being well-traveled in Italy (her first trip to the country was at fifteen years old) led her to Perugia to study abroad. While there, her studies were, as she herself stated, surprisingly lax. Hence, Knox decided to take a job bartending at the nearest local haunt to her apartment on Via Della Pergola 7.

The so-called partying lifestyle in Perugia led Knox to attend a theater show by herself, where she locked eyes with the rather naïve, sexually inexperienced Raffaele Sollecito. From the moment they met that night, the two became inseparable for the next week or so–that is, until the murder of Knox’s British roommate, Meredith Kercher. The now infamous footage of Knox affectionately kissing Sollecito post-finding out about Kercher’s death was the first inkling of fuel for the fire of Giuliano Mignini, the lead prosecutor in the case out to solve the “mystery” as quickly as possible–even if that meant making the shoe fit even when it didn’t.

The city’s fear of the unknown–being unable to identify what sort of cold-blooded monster could be capable of such sexually violent depravity–spurred on Mignini’s desire to pin it on the most effortless scapegoat. Amanda, both American and unwary of spreading her DNA at the scene of the crime, was clearly going to be the most likely candidate for Mignini to accuse. Building a case around her that reeled in the likes of her boss, Patrick Lumumba, and her unwitting boyfriend, who ended up backtracking on the ironclad alibi Knox had in telling the police she spent the night of November 1, 2007 with him, Mignini was also influenced by his own self-admitted passion for detective stories–a passion that colored his desire to solve a more complex mystery than was actually there (it should have been an open and shut case after discovering Rudy Guede’s DNA in Kercher’s room).

Also present in the documentary to weigh in on his role (sort of like a synecdoche for all of the media) in spinning the case is Nick Pisa, a journalist for the notorious British rag, Daily Mail. As he grinningly and, with much continued pride, rehashes the spoon-fed tabloid fodder he was given to lend a sensationalist approach to the murder, Pisa proves the primary point filmmakers Blackhurst and McGinn intend to iterate, which is, of course, that the clout of the press in swaying the public is more dangerous than we can ever fully fathom.

Throughout, Knox re-tells her tale of woe with the sort of calmness that made people question her innocence in the first place. Undeniably, Knox’s slowness to report the suspicious look of things in her apartment–from blood stains in the bathroom to feces in the toilet–is what initiated her quick demise in the realm of innocence in the eyes of Italian authorities, who have, to be honest, zero tolerance for “weirdness” (something Americans are far more accepting of).

Her “unusual” reactions, including slapping her ears repeatedly when asked to go through the knives in Sollecito’s apartment to see if any of them might match the murder weapon, served as a catalyst for her conviction. Upon viewing her bizarre response to being asked to go through the knives, Mignini was only further sold on Knox’s guilt based on her abnormal comportment.

Taking advantage of her vulnerable state and non-fluency in the language, Italian authorities used physical abuse to get the answers they wanted out of Amanda if she responded in an uncertain or “cloudy” manner. These extreme measures, both cruel and highly illegal (at least in the U.S.) were taken to the next level while Knox was in prison, and was falsely informed that she had AIDS so that the police could gain more information about past lovers she cited in order to cooperate with treating the disease.

Treated like a hybrid caricature of a whore-witch, Knox watched four years of her peak youth go by in a Northern Italian prison (though one imagines that, at least, the food was probably far superior to an American one). Even after an independent forensic investigation confirmed that the original DNA evidence obtained by the police was both poorly gathered, faulty and insubstantial, many remained unconvinced.

After Knox’s exoneration, there was a clamoring in the streets of Italy insisting upon her guilt. Lusting for the blood of a woman they had been brainwashed to believe was impure, sex-crazed–a villainous Circe sicked upon the country to get away with murder for her own sport–it became clear that this was about something more. It was about punishing someone (not coincidentally a female) for her lifestyle. Now “safely” back in her corner of the world, Knox spends her time advocating for the wrongly accused.

So what’s the lesson of Amanda Knox, really? For women, it might be: careful how “slutty” you make your online presence (MySpace was a real killer–no pun intended–for Knox’s lost lamb potential). For others, it might just be: don’t travel, ever. But then, over 50% of Americans don’t have passports anyway.