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The Necessity of Casting JonBenét.


JonBenét Ramsey was a 6-year-old beauty pageant queen from Boulder, Colorado. In 1996, during the early hours of December 26th, her mother, Patsy, discovered a three-page ransom note and made a 911 call to report that her daughter had been kidnapped. Later that day, JonBenét’s body was found in the basement, strangled to death by a garrotte. Whilst a man confessed to her murder, he was eventually cleared due to DNA evidence and the case remains unsolved. People have continued to meticulously discuss and dissect evidence for over two decades with the parents and older brother, Burke, as the key suspects.

Why was Patsy still wearing clothes from the night before? Why did the ‘kidnapper’ leave a ransom note when the body was in the basement? Why was the ransom note three pages long? Why did they write the ransom note with the Ramsey’s stationary? Why did they write the ransom note at the scene of the crime? Why did they request such a small amount of money when everyone was aware of the Ramsey’s wealth? Was Burke the third person that was heard at the end of the 911 call? Why did the police allow people to immediately enter the crime scene and contaminate evidence? Why did they allow the body to be moved? Why did the parents converse with the media before the police? Why was December 25th written on JonBenét’s headstone?

Enthralled and captivated by the possibilities and countless theories surrounding the crime, we become emotionally invested, researching everything that we can to try to piece together events through different narratives. We are plagued by the arcane nature of the tragedy. We need finality, to attain some sort of justice, whether internal or palpable. Our intrinsic nature to seek resolution turns us, the audience, into the investigators.

The popularity of things such as Making a Murderer and The Jinx has contributed to a new genre of true crime entertainment. By feeding on our inherent desire for justice, this wave of television presents unsolved cases through a storytelling narrative whilst shifting focus onto the evocation of response. The division and use of crime is intended for consumption, offering information in order to create conversation whilst still providing entertainment value and capitalising on our curiosity. Through bringing awareness and providing us with an understanding of the case at depth, these documentaries allow us to reach what we believe is our own verdict.

These productions, however, offer crime like any other show, episode by episode, catering to this new evolution of true crime enthusiasts and our binge-watching means of consuming television. They not only blur the line between actuality and fiction but encourage us to perceive the crime like a drama, interfering with our response and overall treatment of the tragedy. These productions have an objective, leading us to reach a preferred verdict through shaping our comprehension of the crime. It is important to remember that they cannot possibly cover every miniscule piece of evidence, every conversation or lead. Their portrayal will always be somewhat preferential, hindering our overall perception of the crime.

This is why the Netflix documentary, Casting JonBenét, is so ground-breaking.

At first glance, the documentary is perplexing due to its deviation from the conventional format of true crime shows. Instead of providing a timeline or talking the audience through the crime from beginning to end, Casting JonBenét focuses on actors that are auditioning for roles in a fictional film about the crime. Dressed in character costumes, these strangers recite lines and re-enact pivotal scenes, explaining the process of getting into character and their personal connection to the case. The actors explore their own memories and experiences to dissect the frame of mind required to participate in certain scenes. It is through unpacking the psychology of behaviour whilst reverting back to their own experiences that they demonstrate why, at the time, the case became a global phenomenon, deeply resonating with the general public.



The documentary opens with a blonde, almost identical, child auditioning for the role of JonBenét.


Do you know who killed JonBenét Ramsey?’ she asks. A harrowing question that has been echoed for over two decades.

The purpose of the documentary remains vague after each monologue. Why do these people matter to the case? How does this documentary contribute to the investigation of the crime? What is it adding to the overall discussion of the murder of JonBenét?

This, in fact, is the purpose.

The actors explore feeling and behaviour and the nuances of our relationships and actions. They peel away at the layers of each participant, bringing the case back down to a human level. One auditionee discusses the way that over exhaustion could have easily led Patsy to snap under pressure just like any human. By immersing themselves into scenes and both reading lines and depicting the tragedy the way that they believe it to have occurred, Casting JonBenét overwhelms us with so many possibilities that we begin to question whether what we know is real.

It is a multifaceted documentary demonstrating the way that personal biases can cloud both the perception, investigation and understanding of crime. Through showing and allowing us to experience the ways in which accounts of crime are often influenced by ideology, it forces us to challenge the storytelling nature that we are constantly being fed with. It proves that these documentaries and our own experiences are going to subjectively interfere with the way that we perceive and treat crime. Therefore, we are always going to recognise and read evidence in a manner where it aligns with our own conception of what happened. Through failing to present evidence and a timeline of events, the documentary allows you to deduce what happened through their narrative and in doing so, demonstrates that crime itself is read and understood through other people’s accounts of what happened. Therefore, nothing is entirely accurate and people themselves will always have a wavering sense of truth. It not only poses the question of validity of these documentaries that we consume but also exposes how conversation evolves into speculation and nothing is really as it seems. Both the media and general public contributed to and perpetuated the uproar that surrounds this case, almost detracting from the atrocity of the crime that took place.

The final scene was the most creative, impactful and cinematically beautiful thing that I have watched in a long time. They played out every potential theory about the murder, simultaneously. The music, the screaming, the crying, the lighting, the intensity. It was heart-breaking, piercing. It demonstrated how many different variations there could have been, challenging the truth about what standard crime documentaries present us with. 

The documentary was harrowing and uncomfortable to watch, almost mocking our profound fascination with crime through presenting us with a movie within a documentary that focused more on the portrayal of the tragedy than the act itself. 

The entire thing was magnificent and revolutionary, breaking down the barriers of this new realm of behaviour that many of us pertain to. Casting JonBenét is a masterpiece and is now available to watch on Netflix. You can also view the trailer here. I would wholeheartedly recommend watching it if you have any interest in true crime. It will change the way that you consume truth through television.
(Image Sources: here & here)

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