In writing about the powerful new doc, Dear Zachary, critic David Edelstein paintsall of 2008 with the same brush: too many dead children:
(Photo: David Bagby)
The documentary Dear Zachary is another dead-child saga, among the most enraging I‚Äôve ever seen, and while it‚Äôs fine and heartfelt and I commend it to those of you with strong constitutions, it is the film that has finally broken me. Folks, I can‚Äôt take this anymore. I know children suffer and die in this cruel world; I know we can never be too vigilant on their behalf. But the number of movies is simply disproportionate. Come awards season, dead children seem to factor in every other prestige picture, immeasurably ratcheting up their emotional stakes. In the past weeks, we‚Äôve had Rachel Getting Married (which earns its anguish), Changeling (which doesn‚Äôt), I‚Äôve Loved You So Long (a psychological striptease with a cheat ending), The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (dead children plus the Holocaust); and, as I write, I see on my desk a DVD of this year‚Äôs Israeli drama My Father, My Lord‚Äîsix-sevenths of which is subtle and poetic, until the boy protagonist ventures into the surf while his strict Orthodox rabbi father is too busy davening to look up. In that case, the dead child is blamed on a fundamentalist religion that is divorced from nature, but more often it‚Äôs post-counterculture parental narcissistic self-indulgence that gets children killed. Nazism always works, as does the random (but ubiquitous) child molester, as does bureaucratic indifference and ineptitude. Pick your poison and a child perishes.
I want to give Mr. Edelstein a big hug, don’t you? More of his lament:
I have piled all this on Dear Zachary, and I don‚Äôt want to seem as if I‚Äôm punishing it for being so powerful. It is a controlled explosion. Kurt Kuenne began the film as a tribute to his friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby‚Äîall but certainly murdered by his unstable girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, who fled the U.S. to her hometown in St. John, Newfoundland, and announced, while awaiting extradition, that she was pregnant with Bagby‚Äôs son. No problem, right? The crime was brutal, the evidence of guilt overwhelming, the woman transparently a nutjob: Imprison. Impanel. Extradite. But not so fast: It‚Äôs Canada, Jake. As Bagby‚Äôs stricken parents, David and Kathleen, took up residence in St. John‚Äôs and awaited the birth of their grandchild and their seemingly inevitable custody, the courts postponed and postponed; Turner‚Äôs psychiatrist, John Doucette, put up the money to keep her out of jail; and Turner had a baby boy who was the image of Andrew Bagby. She named him Zachary. Now Kuenne had an even larger mission: to make a record of Bagby‚Äôs life for the son who would never know him.
And then poor Edelstein at last hits a wall:
I‚Äôm not going to spell out the outcome‚Äîfor Turner or anyone else. But it is very bad. A scant five minutes after the film ended, I e-mailed Kuenne: ‚ÄúWhat at present is the status of Justice Gale Welsh? Has she commented on the case? If there is someone still alive who ought to be ‚Äòbrought to justice‚Äô on the occasion of the film‚Äôs release, it is her.‚Äù I considered writing a letter (‚ÄúDear Canada ‚Ä¶‚Äâ‚Äù), then decided to save my fury for this review. Dr. Doucette got his comeuppance, but Welsh endures. I want her disbarred, disgraced. I want her ‚Ä¶There, you see? This is the immensity of the feelings this movie evokes, lynch-mob feelings, because there is no end to the grief, no way of filling the hole.
Why all of this death for children?¬† It’s the most unbearable tragedy, and an immediate short cut to emotion. These stories ought to be told, even if they are told ad nauseum on nightly crime shows.