Monday, August 15, 2011

There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

This HBO documentary looks into the life and death of Diane Schuler. In 2009, Diane was involved in a head on collision that killed her daughter, 3 nieces, 3 men in the other vehicle and herself (her son was the only survivor). It analyzes Diane's life through her friends and the hours leading up to the accident through cell phone calls, police, eye witnesses and surveillance video. She had been noted to be driving erratically and then drove the wrong way on an interstate for 1.7 miles. An autopsy of Diane revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.19 and high level of marijuana in her system.

To Diane's grieving husband, she was a perfect wife and mother. He is adamant that she would never have drank while in the car with the children and that the results of the autopsy are false. He has contested these findings even after the discovery of a bottle of vodka in the car. He grasps at any possibility (a tooth abscess she had several years ago causing her to have a stroke which led to her drinking the alcohol by mistake).

What interested me are all of the interviews of the family members on both sides. Her husband, family members and friends reminiscing about the Diane they knew and looking for any answers, any other medical reasons she behaved the way she did. On the other side, the family members of the 3 men killed in the vehicle she hit, angry that her husband continues to deny what the evidence shows. (The parents of the three nieces killed did not participate in the documentary.) It even goes into the grief and trauma of the witnesses to the accident.

Most of what they present is from the view of Diane's husband and sister-in-law. You find yourself wanting to buy into their blind faith in Diane, even though you know what the evidence shows.

The documentary is very well put together. It easily moves from the accident to the distant past to the present. They integrate the medical and other evidence along with psychiatric assessments of the Diane and her family. (The graphic accident photos I could have done without). It's a medical mystery along with a unique perspective on grief. What happens if the person you are grieving is possibly at fault in the loss? Was she really the person that everyone thought they knew?

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