“And so began the 70-minutes or so of shuddering at the T.V., for multiple reasons.”
JonBenet Ramsey and I share a birth year, which isn’t really the reason why her case resonates with me, but when I do reminisce about her death – which happened in December of 1996, it’s often the first thing that comes to mind. “She was just as old as I was.” As a child, my mother, fascinated with the case, would tell me that all the time – creepy, right?
So it was a little weird to watch a gaggle of girls, dressed like the child beauty queen, run up to a bench, sit down, and declare they were auditioning for the part of JonBenet. It was almost as if we’d jumped back to 1996, marking the beginning of our journey with a whack of JonBenet clones.
And so began the 70-minutes or so of shuddering at the T.V., for multiple reasons.
As someone living outside Boulder, Colorado’s borders, I’m just one of the thousands of people captivated by the story of the little girl’s death. The case was doomed from the get-go. From the weird ransom note, to the discovery of her body in a sheet in the wine cellar (which included her father disturbing evidence) and people trampling in and out of the house after the fact, with each passing moment, the little girl’s chances at justice were swept away, even with the circumstances after her death playing out like a soap opera.
Then, in the years to come, people speculated about the killer.
“It was someone on the outside.”
“I think it was Patsy.”
“I think it was Burke.”
More than twenty years later, and, indeed, it’s just like 1996: no one seems to know anything.
Casting JonBenet is a documentary film covering the casting process for the Ramsey family, under the guise a film will be made – but the film is actually fictitious. All of the actors auditioning for the roles are from or were living in Boulder at the time the death happened. (Well, save for the children, who clearly, did not exist in 1996.) This seems to serve as an interesting case of multi-faceted sociology and psychology; people sharing their stories while utilizing multiple identities: themselves, and the character they’re hoping to play. I could go into speculative detail about some of the methodology used here, but I’ll spare you. (Let’s just say I thought of the Stanford Prison Experiment after watching this. Let me be clear: I know it’s not the EXACT the same thing, but the idea of stepping into roles to learn more about a theme or topic was a point of overlap for me.)
There is no limit to what you’ll run into in this documentary. The actors take every opportunity to boast and brag about however many degrees of separation their life had to the little girl’s. What blindsided me is how astute the younger kids are: not only the ones auditioning for the part of JonBenet Ramsey, but the ones auditioning for the role of Burke, her older brother. There is one scene in which they get one of the kids auditioning for Burke to smash in a watermelon with a flashlight (you know, as someone would try to simulate smashing in one’s skull for – I guess investigative purposes?) and it’s kind of creepy.
The adults are also a spectacle. From one person auditioning and toting their sex education background, to others talking about ‘how close they were to the Ramsey’s,’ like it gets you some kind of pass to be in a film — it was bizarre.
I think what I learned from watching this is that, as you fast forward to 2017, you realize this case is as screwed up as it was when it first hit the spotlight. As the documentary ended, I found myself unable to wrap my head around how odd this lens was. I’ll give credit where credit is due: it was eye-opening to see some of the locals discuss the impact the case had on their lives, but the way it was done as a whole didn’t work. I’m still toying with this, but what I think happened here is that in the cases of some actors, it became less about JonBenet, and more about them. It bordered on becoming a perverse way to exploit the Ramsey family; I couldn’t decide in some cases if people were there to play a part, or inject themselves into the story of this little girl who, after twenty years of being dead, still can’t seem to find peace.
So long as Hollywood (and other forms of film industries) exist, it’s easy to argue the trend to do movies about figures like JonBenet and her family are educational; their stories are a so-called legacy needing to be shared with generations to come. They teach officials and locals why it’s so important to handle a crime scene. They offer suggestions as to why civilians need to be responsible and let investigators do their work properly. Somewhere along the way in Casting JonBenet, however, the producers stopped walking the fine line, and let the actors trample all over them. It became more their story, and less about the Ramseys.
Overall, if you’re looking for a room full of egos, of an indirect game of ‘quien es mas macho,’ then sure, go ahead and watch Casting JonBenet. Personally? I find the piece irresponsible, and give it a 1.5 out of 5.