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Review: 'Lizzie' admirably tackles unsolved mystery

Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 5:10 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 5:10 PM Central

by John Couture

The world was certainly a different place in 1892. It has been said that the technological revolution of the 1900s changed the world more than any other century. Furthermore, as technology spreads, the rate of change exponentially increases as well.

This is all fascinating, but the one area that perhaps was most impacted by this change was criminal investigations. Think about it, crimes such as Jack the Ripper's murders, the Black Dahlia killing, and D.B. Cooper's true identity continue to mystify audiences around the world.

One of the most interesting unsolved murder is that of the Bordens in Massachusetts in 1892. It's the double murder that would propel Lizzie Borden into infamy by way of a child's rhyme for nearly 100 years. Crimes such as these committed long before forensic science was a thing and before technology unearthed such impressive investigation tools such as DNA testing and fingerprint analysis are a reminder of just how far we have come in the last 100 years or so.

Lizzie Borden has been hot of late with a made-for-TV movie and series centered around her in the last few years. In Lizzie, the events of that fateful August day in 1892 are reframed from a possible perspective that might have seemed inconceivable back then.

Chloe Sevigny stars as the social outcast Lizzie Borden and Kristen Stewart joins her as Borden maid Bridget Sullivan. The pair forges a friendship that blossoms into something more before ultimately coming to a head on the business end of a bloody ax.

I have always had a fascination with true crime stories, especially unsolved ones because they have a tendency to tweak my curiosity. There's an innate need to know who did something and why and when a crime is left unsolved, there is an accompanying void that continues to fester in our collective consciousness.

In the case of Lizzie Borden, she was arrested for the double murder, but ultimately found not guilty by a jury of 12 men who felt that she didn't possess the strength and fortitude to commit these heinous acts. Of course, as history has shown, a woman certainly would be capable of killing her parents and so the mystery continues to linger.

Lizzie posits the theory that Lizzie and Irish maid Bridget Sullivan were caught in the midst of a lesbian affair by her father, who was also molesting Bridget at night. In terms of motive, it doesn't end there. The film also argues that Andrew was making a move to cut his daughters out of his will, thus providing Lizzie a financial motive as well. Lizzie also spends time disclosing that Lizzie's uncle was a shady character who also had means, motive and opportunity to commit the acts, but ultimately the movie goes with the accepted narrative, albeit via unconventional means.

Chloe and Kristen are excellent in their roles, bringing a level of authenticity to their performances. Kristen, in particular, has mastered the furtive glances and submissive behaviors that would be indicative of someone in Bridget's station in life during the 1890s.

Chloe Sevigny always brings a professional acumen to her roles, but with Lizzie she ramps up the psychosis to a level that makes a convincing case for parricide. Even if you think that the feminist angle or lesbianic overtures are too speculative, Lizzie deserves to be seen for the amazing character studies turned in by the two leads.

At the end of the day Lizzie doesn't break any new ground, it just sheds light on an alternate theory that hasn't been discussed as much. Ultimately, this is a crime that will most likely never be truly solved, but the story provides the context in which we can see how repression and "deviant" acts might have been handled in a simpler time and the repercussions of these decisions.

Lizzie is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.