In this European-funded documentary, Stephen Trombley, an American who has lived and worked in England for some time, details the operation and personnel behind the latest technology in capital punishment--the lethal injection machine.
Filmed mostly in a sparkling new prison in Potosi, Missouri, this production features interviews with the machine's inventor, its potential victims, and the bureaucrats who maintain and operate it. The Potosi Correctional Center does not look like a prison, but rather like an airport terminal
with a few slit-like windows; the only clue to its function is a row of tall fences topped by razor-wire. The interior, too, is almost clinical, with wide hallways and cinder-block rooms that resemble those in some community colleges.
The prison inmates are all under severe sentences: those not on death row are in for 50 years to life. The death sentence is carried out by two lethal injections administered automatically by a small portable control device. Like a missile-launch system, the device requires that two men
simultaneously turn a key, activating a series of automatic syringes, though there are provisions for manual control. Its designer, Fred Leuchter, proudly shows off the prototype Execution Protocol kept in his home basement and openly discusses the drugs used to stop breathing and the heart,
something the Potosi prison officials primly refrain from doing. Those bureaucrats are seen at a meeting where the 13th revision of the procedures surrounding an execution are discussed in excruciatingly dull detail. The officials are inordinately proud of this machine and the rituals relating to
the executions it so cleanly performs. The only hitch seems to be the catheter and rectal plug used to keep the state's gurney clean. One of the inmates facing execution argues for a more gruesome form of execution, and the clinical atmosphere associated with the lethal injection machine--a doctor
does the lethal hook-up, inserting the device's intravenous needle--does seem hypocritical.
Trombley has filmed many of the officials in extreme close-up, while the potential victims, convicted murderers, are shown more naturally. This, plus the use of distancing pompous language--"protocol" being a prime example--suggests a vague discomfort at facing up to the reality of
state-sanctioned murder. THE EXECUTION PROTOCOL argues subtly against capital punishment. Underpinning the film is the undeniable strength of the taboo against killing which the technological gimmicks, elaborate procedures, and flat expressions are all designed to overcome. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: In this European-funded documentary, Stephen Trombley, an American who has lived and worked in England for some time, details the operation and personnel behind the latest technology in capital punishment--the lethal injection machine. Filmed mostly in… (more)