Casting JonBenét written and directed by Kitty Green (Netflix, Forensic Films, Symbolic Exchange, Meridian Entertainment)
Starring lots of people.
Life in the Shoes of Someone Else
Empathy, I would argue, represents a key characteristic of the human condition. Outside of the rare sociopath in the bunch—stop being sociopaths people—we seek to understand the people around us.
Granted, some have more empathy than others. But overall, I contend it isn’t too difficult to consider what life might be like in someone else’s shoes.
In fact, this consideration represents a core element of acting. What is acting but the full embodiment of another human being?
In Casting JonBenét, Kitty Green sets aside the normal narrative beats of a docudrama for something completely different. Much like The Lifespan of a Fact, Casting JonBenét takes a meta look at acting as a craft, the way we interact with people, and how real-life influences the way we think about community.
Not Your Average Dateline
If you press play on Casting JonBenét expecting the standard Dateline-style approach to a murder mystery, you’ll be quite surprised.
Instead, Kitty Green placed a casting call for this docudrama in the greater Boulder area where JonBenét Ramsey lost her life on Christmas in 1996. Having set expectations around the casting call being a part of the documentary, we see many people auditioning for the pertinent roles—John Ramsey, Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Carr, Santa Clause.
More than just an audition, the director asks the actors to dive into their method, to get a sense of what they think about the events they plan to depict.
At this intersection, the interesting motifs emerge because, the JonBenét Ramsey case remains open. Despite massive armchair detective work over the decades, we still don’t know what happened that night. For this reason, depicting John or Patsy must be difficult. How can an actor play a character we the actor is unaware of innocence or guilt?
In seeking to answer this question, the auditioners open up in fascinating ways. Some people admit losing brothers, children, or girlfriends. Others admit to various forms of abuse. These deepest and darkest secrets get shared freely in front of the camera as the actor unearths elements of his or her life that can draw parallels to the characters of this murder.
Empathy: A Document of the Viewer
Given this element, I think back to the human desire to empathize with the other. The Ramseys are humans after all. Whether they played a part in their daughter’s murder or they are grieving parents, we tend to find links from their experiences to our own experiences.
As such, Casting JonBenét humanizes everyone. Fascinatingly, between audition tape, Kitty Green places scenes that vary in content depending on the actor’s beliefs around what happened. As a result, Casting JonBenét, offers a tapestry of narratives around the harrowing event illustrating more a community’s attempt to grasp the ungraspable rather than a smoking gun in this cold case. If you are interested in out-of-the-box documentaries, Casting JonBenét is for you.
Verdict: 4 out of 5