Director Erin Lee Carr. Photo credit: Maggie Richardson for HBO.
Director Erin Lee Carr. Photo credit: Maggie Richardson for HBO.

SXSW 2019 WORLD PREMIERE

What to Know About ‘I Love You, Now Die’ Before It Premieres

By Olivia Armstrong

Director Erin Lee Carr, producer Andrew Rossi and journalist Jesse Barron discussed the changing nature of the justice system at the hands of technology.

I Love You Now Die Documentary HBODefendant Michelle Carter of Massachusetts was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the suicide of boyfriend Conrad Roy.

The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, the texting suicide case that captured the nation’s attention, unpacks the complicated relationship between 17-year-old Carter and her 18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy, who took his own life after a series of texts from Carter encouraged him to do so. In her latest, two-part documentary, I Love You, Now Die, director Erin Lee Carr (Mommy Dead and Dearest, Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop) raises questions about technology, mental health and whether a teenager can be held responsible for the suicide of another.

Carr, along with producer Andrew Rossi and journalist Jesse Barron, joined a rapt audience after the world premiere at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas to discuss the case and the changing nature of the justice system at the hands of technology. Below are takeaways gleaned from their conversation, including what you need to know before the film arrives on HBO this summer.

The documentary is part of a larger, unofficial “trilogy.”

Erin Lee Carr’s films Mommy Dead and Dearest, Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop and now, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, all feature cases and subjects who find themselves at a crossroads between technology and the law. “The legal system and society are trying to deal with this relationship,” producer Andrew Rossi explained.

In all three cases, technology — specifically direct messages — aided in the convictions of the defendants. For Michelle Carter, “the penal code didn’t have a law on the books to accommodate the actions Michelle and Conrad engaged in,” Rossi continued, “But the judge came up with a determination based on different laws and jurisdictions — and now she’s in jail.”

Director Erin Lee Carr (second from left) with producer Andrew Rossi and contributor Jesse Barron. Photo credit: Maggie Richardson.

There’s justice and then there’s accountability.

Audience members, curious about the exponential rise of crime documentaries, wondered where investigative films like I Love You, Now Die fit into the legal narrative of the cases they’re following. “There’s no justice when someone dies,” Carr remarked, “I think [my film] is about accountability.”

Daughter of late New York Times journalist David Carr, the director approaches her projects through an investigative lens (even inviting Esquire reporter Jesse Barron onto the project after the two met in court during the trial) to get closer to the truth. “It’s about tying the pieces together and creating a compelling but journalistic portrait of what happened,” she continued. “There’s a trial and then we get to take what happened and wonder what it means. What I love about filmmaking and about figuring this out, is sometimes you can shift what happens after.”

Cases like this are just the beginning — and suggest complicated shifts in the legal system.

Documentary contributor Jesse Barron believes what happened between Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, “Is part of a wave of cases that are going to test digital behavior against laws written way before any of this was in play,” he posited. “I think this case is a little ahead of the law, which is one of the reasons why it attracted so much attention.”

Carr, who admitted she felt “mesmerized” when she first saw the texts between Carter and Roy, decided she “wanted to spend years thinking about this woman” and what her trial means for the larger population and their digital habits. “What I was really interested in figuring out and what the judge was ultimately thinking about,” she concluded was one question: “Did she know right from wrong?”