Personally? I would much rather be mauled to death by a bear. Timothy Treadwell lived for something and died for something. And he left behind the remarkable footage Herzog used in his film. Argue all you want, then go back to your cubicle and send out another email.
Into The Abyss has none of that wonder and no joy, no hope either. There is a section of the film titled, “A Glimmer of Hope” but it seems a faint and false one. If Herzog truly sees hope in this story his eyes are keener than mine.
The film is the story of a murder, the murderers and the families of the victims. It is about people, not much detail about the town, about the setting. Nothing really matters except the interviews—and most poignantly with a man not even involved in this specific case.
There are several points in the movie where, an audience member trying to find a point may despair; then there is an interview that ties pieces brings it together. A former prison guard talks of his experiences and you see the effect of state sponsored revenge on people guilty of nothing other than doing their job (in fact, this is how the film starts). An aging inmate comes to realize he wasted not only his life but the lives of his sons. None of this is pleasant but should this story be pleasant? Why would you force "pleasantness" upon it?
And just because Herzog makes his distaste for the death penalty known it doesn’t mean everyone’s reaction to the film will be to turn against the ultimate punishment upon seeing the film. It isn’t meant to do that. It is meant to make you think about it, make you see it. The audience sees people who probably deserve to die and the heartbroken people with ruined lives left behind. Who witnessing that has the strength to say; “Enough”?
But if, after watching this, you have no appreciation as to how the crime and the reaction to it by the state, by us, is nothing less than a terrible tragedy, you may have some empathy issues of your own. You may not walk out against the death penalty (it may even make you more for it) but you will think about it more seriously, unlike two older women who sat next to me and my son, who were laughing throughout. My son, who at 14 asked me to take him to this film, said “I wanted to punch those people next to us.” I thought; no punch could be worse than living your life with a mind that thinks any part of Into The Abyss is funny.