The lightning sequence in the beginning of Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. does not only allude to the bizarreness of the film, but also to the superb cinematography throughout. Despite its aesthetic feat, the film’s material and its main subject, the one and only Mr. Fred A. Leuchter, are its most difficult features to process.
Leuchter, for the start of the film, is considerably intelligent. He appears savvy and engrossed in his career field. Curiously, his speciality is the construction of more ‘humane’ executional devices for American penitentiaries.
His interest for the art began with his early exposure to the prison lifestyle and the prisoners themselves. Leuchter wasn’t locked up for any crime, rather his father held a security position at the local lockup. He gains first hand knowledge of the prison social experience; that despite their reasons for imprisonment, the inmates are merely a bunch of simple men and great to speak with or hang around during the day. Leuchter ultimately classifies them as human beings. In succession, Leuchter becomes fascinated with prison execution methods. He earns his living by constructing new and improved--and don’t forget humane--execution devices.
Facetiously, to say the least, director Errol Morris films an intensely attractive biography of Leuchter’s life and his profession. The film connotes that Leuchter lives a dream of a life. Leuchter compares his intelligence and career as that of a missionary’s. He thrills on the idea that he brings the virtue of humanity to the execution. He thrives on how his cooking recipes mediate the humane side of killing people with the monstrous side. He feels he is a hero to take on this task and execute it so gosh darn well.
Straightforwardly, he seems to excrete a completely estranged sense of logic. The bit of anger from that last sentence is derived from the latter half of the film. This high and mighty ‘mouse of a man’ experiences a public hanging of his own. In the late 1980s, Leuchter is recruited by Ernst Zundel, a man --a blabbermouth ignoramus-- who recruits Leuchter to help disprove the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz concentration camp. If nothing is scientifically unearthed from the site, Zundel’s theory that the Holocaust didn’t exist will be undeniably true. Backlash inevitably ensues. Leuchter, meanwhile, becomes pigeon to the thrill of spotlight and controversy. He is duped by his own egoism.
Morris recognizes that Leuchter is an utter screwball and accentuates the man in quite interesting filmic ways. The film includes a well organized montage of people involved, often parallel to eerie and noir choices of archival footage. For certain, the wackiness of the shots and appealing distortion of graphics do not make you feel ‘good’. The angles and content are enough to conjur vomit for some. The montages don’t necessarily empower your mind, heart, soul, and brain with good disposition. Morris’s intimate shots of Leuchter cause the desire to want to move back in the seat or walk out of sight of the screen. Never let Leuchter’s eyes to catch hold of you, especially when he sits in his pride and joy of an execution chair, or when he stares wide-eyed into the high or low angled lens. The film is far from poor quality, but bits like the final shot sequence of an angelic looking Leuchter buckling up for death in his chair that incite the strong sentiment of: Glad that’s is over. No more of that man. No more. Fool.