‘Shattered Hopes’ Director On My ‘Learned Helplessness’ Post

by Bill Brenner on March 28, 2012

Ryan Katzenbach, director of “Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders,” sent me a note on Facebook yesterday regarding the post I wrote on one of the themes of the film: Louise DeFeo’s “learned helplessness.”

Ryan always responds to his fans when they have questions or comments on the documentary. Given his high profile and workload, it amazes me how accessible he is. Anyway, I wanted to share what he wrote to me, because it really captures the purpose of this piece of work:

Bill, this was truly great reading. When we finished with Part I, and in watching the subsequent installments through the editing process, I had wondered if our film would actually help anyone out there who finds themselves caught in a similar situation of domestic, be it verbal or physical, abuse. Originally, this started as a means of understanding the family dynamic of 112 Ocean after hearing stories, like those of Peg Giambra, the juror from the case, when she told of the horrifying stories that she encountered while sitting through the trial. 

For me, growing up in a home that was never dysfunctional or abusive, there was a huge gulf between understanding WHY people stay and WHY they don’t leave. When you grow up absent any such environ, you simply don’t understand. I would ask myself “given the means of the Brigante family, why didn’t Louise do something?” Part of that answer, I would learn, was due to the era. We didn’t recognize domestic abuse as we do today; it was hushed, it was quieted, and essentially, it was a man’s right as the king of his castle. But then, when Drs. Hickey and Puckett began to apply clinical psychology to the situation, it really came into focus. Part of what they did was help us understand the tumultuous cocktail of dysfunction and WHY and HOW it happened. The next part of what they’re going to do is help us understand the psychology behind murder itself, and reviewing the elements of our forensic study encapsulated in Part III, it is, in many cases chilling. There are passages that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, still. Far, far more haunting and disturbing than Jodie The Demonic Pig. Because this stuff is REAL.

I hope that maybe as a residual, perhaps….MAYBE….somehow…some person who sees our film and finds themselves in this type of domestic abuse situation will be able to summon strength from the story of the DeFeos to do something in a proactive approach to escape their personal insanity. If just ONE person were to learn from what has been presented and get out of their situation, then perhaps the DeFeo family did not die in vain…..maybe their lessons will impact others and from this, we can draw a positive from a story that is otherwise dark and negative.

Just my thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback, Ryan.

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