Speaking of Crying, I Just Watched the Saddest Documentary

There's just something about a documentary -- especially a sad one.
Publish date:
August 2, 2011
movies, hbo, documentaries

I'm probably most grateful to HBO for introducing me to Swan Brooner in 2001's "Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen," but I have been loving this summer's reboot of the channel's trademark documentary series.

There's just something about a documentary -- especially a sad one. The good ones almost haunt you; I had days-long reactions to "Born Into Brothels," "The Bridge" and "Dear Zachary." (Incidentally, I'm still not sure why documentaries are highbrow, but reality television is gauche. I love 'em both.)

Anyway, while I've enjoyed every film in the series, particularly "Hot Coffee," the one currently taking up mucho brainspace is "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane." The seriously heartwrenching doc is about Diane Schuler, who made headlines in 2009 when she killed herself and 7 other people in a horrific crash caused when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway for almost 2 miles. The victims included her 2-year-old daughter and three young nieces. Her five-year-old son was the only survivor.

It was soon found that Schuler had high levels of marijuana and alcohol in her system at the time of the crash, a fact her husband and sister-in-law refuse to accept, to the point of demanding that Diane's body be exhumed and retested. And as the documentary unfolds, it is hard to reconcile the loving wife and mother with no known history of alcohol abuse or psychological problems with the woman with a blood alcohol content more than twice the legal limit who got behind the wheel that day.

I know something about how addiction can rob you of choice -- my alcoholism is less defined by the amount I drank and more by the consequences of my drinking. I cannot drink safely -- once I ingest alcohol, I will get into cars with strange men, will lean shakily over the subway tracks to vomit, will curl up on a pile of city trash bags for a 2 a.m. nap. I suppose I'm lucky that I never jeopardized anyone's life but my own.

It's hard to understand, hard to reconcile that toxicology report with the loving wife and mother depicted in the film. The mystery of what really happened on July 26, 2009, in the hours between Diane's seemingly sober appearance on a gas station surveillance camera to the the fiery crash which wiped out 7 lives will never be solved, which is why I can't stop processing the film's images and events, turning them over and over in my mind like poking at a sore tooth with my tongue.

It is not the me-ness of me that made my bad choices, just as I suspect that it wasn't the Diane-ness of Diane Schuler that made hers. It was the addiction that opened the car door that day, the disease that turned the key. Which is why it's so hard for those who loved her to believe she would have done something like drive wasted with a car full of children. Diane wouldn't have, her alcoholism did.

See? SO SAD.

If you're a pain junkie like me (DEAD KIDS, ya'll), you can still see "There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane" on HBO on demand.