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article imageReview: See NYC's 'Cannibal cop' in a different light in 'Thought Crimes' Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 25, 2015 in Entertainment
If someone were to go into an online chat room or message board and fantasize about kidnapping and cannibalizing women, but never acts on it, has this person committed a crime?
That's the big question of Thought Crimes, a documentary about New York City's infamous "Cannibal cop," Gilberto Valle. While Valle never physically harmed any women, he did chat on fetish sites online where he fantasized about kidnapping, raping, cooking and then eating women he knew.
Valle was arrested in 2012 and charged with conspiracy to kidnap, as well as illegal use of a police database — he used the database to find personal information on several women.
The big issue the documentary weighs in on is whether or not Valle "conspired" to do anything. By legal definition, conspiracy is when a person goes beyond simply thinking about doing something, and making an overt act that brings the person closer to doing something.
If the prosecution can't prove Valle made an overt act to kidnap women, the film argues, then he is being persecuted not for an action, but for a thought, hence the 1984-referencing title.
Director Erin Lee Carr interviews a wide range of subjects, most crucially Valle himself and his mother. A number of experts, from psychologists to lawyers, speculate on whether Valle's chats can be considered a "coping" method for dealing with his fantasies and whether or not the jury that initially convicted Valle had enough evidence to do so.
The documentary goes to great lengths to show the chats Valle had with his various contacts, including a British man named "Moody Blues" who is now in prison for a completely different crime. While many of the chats show Valle definitively saying his words are pure fantasy, in a few he says he's completely serious, adding further complexity to an already murky case.
Several shots of Valle at home show him cooking, which could be considered tacky, however Carr says most of the time she and her crew were over, that was what he was doing. Nauseating food shots aside, Thought Crimes thoroughly examines an issue that in the press appeared to be black-and-white but is far more nuanced than one might expect.
Thought Crimes is now playing at the 2015 Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, and will premiere on HBO on May 11. See Digital Journals 2015 festival coverage here.
More about thought crimes, Cannibal Cop, Gilberto Valle, Hot docs, hot docs 2015
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