Kill what is bad and good


Does incurable evil exist and if so, how do we deal with it? This is an age-old human question that is always topical. The recent debates about the safe custody of mentally ill serious criminals show that. Brain researchers now believe they have come a little closer to the answer. The film shows their work, their insights and their questions. A journey inside the brain.

For years, Susanne P. headed the social psychiatric department of the Straubing prison until she took a prisoner hostage in her office on April 7, 2009 and raped him several times. Only after seven hours did the man give up. Susanne P. knew him well, he was her patient for years, she had diagnosed him with progress.

“I was wrong about this person and obviously overlooked something. That torments me almost more than the act itself. It has shaken all my trust in me, my perception, my abilities and the security of this world.
(Susanne P., former head of the social psychiatric department of the Straubing prison)

They are charming, they lie without the slightest scruple, they know how to manipulate their surroundings: in the early 1940s, the US psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley compiled a case collection of patients who showed terrifying similarities for the first time. They murdered and raped without remorse, ruthlessly and brutally. They lacked any empathy, they were solely concerned with their own gain - and yet they could seem like the nicest people in the world when you sat across from them.

"Can't we agree that we urgently need to find out what's going on with these people?" (Hervey Cleckley, forensic psychiatrist)

Psychopaths are not a fiction that only appears in crime novels. They exist and they deeply worry people. Whenever it comes to the question of how society should deal with severely mentally disturbed criminals, whether they can be cured and released again, the fear of evil arises, which cannot be reached through human compassion. Quotes like that of Marc Dutroux, who locked several young women in a cellar dungeon for months, abused them and killed four of them, heighten defenses and fear:

"I'm no more responsible for the death of the girls than for a traffic accident."
(Marc Dutroux)

Why are these people killing without the slightest sign of guilty conscience? What makes them different from other offenders? How did they become what they are? And finally, can we do something about it? These are the questions neuroscientists and forensic psychiatrists ask.

And they come to very different conclusions: Are these “monsters” really different from “us”? Or is it like the neuropsychologist Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz claims:

"In principle, I believe that you can turn any man into a killer." (Thomas Elbert, neuropsychologist)

Director: Karin Jurschick
Camera: Dieter Stürmer
Sound: Jule Cramer
Editing: Marc Schubert
Producer: Monika Mack, Rolf Bremenkamp
Production management: Christian Schwalbe (ZDF)
Producer: Birgit Schulz
Editor: Ann-Christin Hornberger (ZDF)

An Bildersturm film production on behalf of ZDF
in collaboration with ARTE, 52 min.