Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS -

HE’S the self- eff ac­ing English­man who has tran­scended geeky journo to be­come a master doc­u­men­tary maker with so much clout he’s be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Scientology.

But ask Louis Th­er­oux what he’s feared most in more than 15 years cov­er­ing sub­jects in­clud­ing Amer­ica’s worst pris­ons, neo- Nazi cul­ture, white su­prem­a­cists and pae­dophilia and you get a sur­pris­ing an­swer.

“Fun­nily enough, the most dan­ger I felt was when I did a story about ex­otic an­i­mals kept as pets in Amer­ica,” he says.

“I kept hear­ing, ‘ I could be in a cage with a tiger all day, but I won’t go near a chim­panzee’. The cliché I heard a lot was that they’ll rip your arm off and beat you to death with it.

“And I don’t want to dis­credit or cast as­per­sions on the chim­panzee pop­u­la­tion, but I think they are so bored and so in­tel­li­gent and they live to be about 60 years old and they just get an­gry.

“When it was time to meet a chim­panzee I got very, very anx­ious be­cause they have the strength of 10 men, so I hear. They bite your gen­i­tals off , I hear, and they bite your nose off , and be­cause I have quite a big nose, I al­ways thought one might see my nose and it might be too tempt­ing to re­sist.”

Th­er­oux’s great­est gift is his gen­tle, unas­sum­ing mask of neutrality, which sees him ask ques­tions about the “ele­phant in the room”. His sub­jects may baulk, but they an­swer. In the case of the fi rst of his two up­com­ing doc­u­men­taries, By Rea­son of In­san­ity, the re­sult is raw, unfl inch­ing sto­ry­telling. Th­er­oux spends a month im­mersed in Ohio’s State Psy­chi­atric Hos­pi­tals, where his sub­jects are in­car­cer­ated hav­ing been found not guilty of hor­rifi c crimes “by rea­son of in­san­ity”.

As schiz­o­phrenic Jonathan calmly, clin­i­cally and with­out a trace of em­pa­thy re­counts slit­ting his fa­ther’s throat seven years ear­lier in a para­noid rage, Th­er­oux con­fesses part of him wants to see “more grief”. It’s deeply con­fronting. And you can’t look away.

“This is a young man who is on the one hand oblig­ing and an­swers the ques­tions and ap­pears to be sin­cerely at­tempt­ing to en­gage with me in a di­a­logue, and then on the other hand he stabbed his fa­ther to death,” Th­er­oux says.

“To­wards the end of the in­ter­view, rather than pre­tend this is all quite nor­mal, I called at­ten­tion to the fact that he is talk­ing about some­thing that is ab­so­lutely hideous and yet wasn’t show­ing much emo­tion.”

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