In July of 2014, Massachusetts teen Conrad Roy III was found dead by suicide in his truck outside a K-Mart parking lot. This might not sound terribly familiar at first—until we get into the investigation, whereupon detectives uncovered thousands of texts between Roy and his girlfriend Michelle Carter, 17 at the time, who pressured Roy into going through with the act despite his insistence of terror. "Get back in," Carter texted him after he texted that he'd left his vehicle. He never emerged.
What followed was a media storm and a complicated mess of ethics, technology and the secret lives of modern teens. Carter made insidious "Worst People" lists across the internet, parents feared for their own children, and most of America made up their minds with very little information. But it may not be as simple as we've been led to believe.
In I Love You, Now Die, out now via HBO, filmmaker Erin Lee Carr (Mommy Dead and Dearest) explores the dynamics of the case across two 90-ish-minute episodes. The first focuses on Carter's actions: How she met Roy, how they quickly developed a deeply intimate relationship via text messaging despite only having met in real life a handful of times, how quickly and horrifyingly they began to feed into each other's psychoses—and how eerily common that is among today's youths.
We learn the Commonwealth of Massachusetts set out to prove Carter orchestrated Roy's death as a means to garner attention. It's compelling evidence and makes sense, particularly through onscreen images of the actual texts between the two, interviews with Roy's family, cops, journalists who covered the case and courtroom footage. By the end of part one, we're convinced a manipulative young woman pushed a troubled young man to an early grave to net sympathy friends.
Then part two kicks in, and Carr gives us the other side of the story, leading us to question our own conditioned knee-jerk misogyny and the idea that young women are somehow always accessing the depths of cruelty for their own nefarious gains. Roy's vacillating between love and cruelty via text and his search for someone with the right amount of desperation to support him in his desire to die become startlingly apparent. Carter was, of course, ill-equipped to handle such emotional abuse, and the more pieces that come together, the more we find a young woman clearly in need of help she wasn't getting and a self-aware young man who found the perfect foil to a plan he'd made long ago.
It's a tough watch to be sure, but I Love You, Now Die keeps us guessing and constantly questioning our allegiances. It becomes hard to know which side to take, though the sad truth is that there really isn't one. There are no winners and no answers. And the moral, if there is one, is bleak: It's harder to be a teen now than ever before.
Particularly of note are the interviews with journalist Jesse Barron, who covered the case at the time for Esquire. Still, there's a certain sensationalism at play that undermines the film's insistence that the media can twist a story's facts. When the realties of the situation sink in again after the tone shifts, we're still left with a dead teen and a very sick young woman who felt so miserably alone, she didn't know how to speak up when it mattered most.
+Makes us question ourselves; intriguing
-Parts don't work independently of each other; painfully sad
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
Directed by Carr
HBO, TV-MA, 240 min.