The Confessions of Thomas Quick
Directed by: Brian Hill
In 19911, Sture Bergwall was admitted to the Swedish psychiatric clinic Säter, after he was arrested for robbery. One day he admitted to a caretaker that he was behind the hitherto unresolved murder of 11 year old Johan Asplund. This was only the first of the entire 39 killing Bergwall admitted in the years that followed, several of them carried out in Norway. Based on the confessions, Bergwall, now called Thomas Quick, was convicted of eight of these killings, including Norwegian Therese Johannessen, Trine Jensen and Gry Storvik.
With Thomas Quick, Sweden had got its first mass murderer, which did not appear to have any clear patterns in either victims or procedure. Some should have been parted or mutilated, and in some cases he should have eaten some of the body parts. Quick was Sweden's answer to Hannibal Lecter, Jeffrey Dahmer and Patrick Bateman.
Right Scandal. But then Bergwall withdrew all the confessions, in a documentary by journalist Hannes Råstam sent to SVT in 2008. This led to the cases being resumed, and on July 31, 2013 Bergwall was acquitted of all the eight killings. About two years later he was discharged from the Säter clinic, where he had spent a total of 24 years. Today he lives in the north of Sweden.
A lot of books have been written about Quick, and it's no wonder that this case also arouses interest in filmmakers. Mythomania is in itself a suitable theme for film, and here we are supposedly dealing with a psychiatric patient whose lies have caused Sweden's biggest legal scandal. The British documentary The Confessions of Thomas Quick Moreover, it seems to fit well with two popular trends.
True Crime. With a partly cool visual expression and constant panning of Swedish forest landscape, the atmosphere is called, which is often called "Nordic noir". Formally, the film is otherwise based on "talking heads" and reconstructions, and may recall both The Imposter og Searching for Sugar Man – the latter mostly because of its significant turning point a good stretch in the film. Director Brian Hill waits a long time to clarify that Bergwall's confessions must have been untrue, creating a surprise moment that does not, however, become as effective for those of us who already know the matter from our domestic news picture.
In addition, the film hits the so-called "true crime" wave, which has recently washed over us with the podcast Serial and the TV series The Jinx og Making a Murderer. This trend can be criticized for creating real-life tragedy, and it is not least problematic when one gives the impression of being more objective than documentaries strictly have the opportunity to be. The designation itself indicates that the Crimean genre's demands for tension and dramaturgy, which can easily come at the expense of a sober and balanced production, are often sought after. But such documentaries can just as well provide necessary corrections when the system fails, or even commit murder.
In the case of Thomas Quick, this has been referred to as just a murder case. In that case, it should be borne in mind that it was on the basis of his actual confessions – but it is nevertheless welcome that both journalists and documentaries try to find out how this could happen. The Confessions of Thomas Quick points out an uncritical group thinking as the main culprit in this way, and draws a damning picture of almost sectarian conditions in Swedish psychiatry and, to some extent, the political scene.
Even Medication. As a youngster, Sture Bergwall must have struggled to accept his homosexuality, which at this time was still a psychiatric diagnosis in Sweden. This led to extensive self-medication, with benzodiazepine as his favorite drug – a sedative he was given almost unlimited access to when he was admitted to Säter. In the footage from the scene scenes shown in the documentary, Quick seems clearly intoxicated. It was then, even after a newly arrived doctor at the institution cut his medication in 2001, that the confessions suddenly ended.
According to the movie, Quick became the therapist's star patient.
The film states that the psychotherapeutic environment at Säter swore to a controversial theory that made it plausible that Quick had suppressed the murders – but that memories could come back through conversation therapy. According to the film, Quick became the therapist's star patient, who not only confirmed, but eventually became the case that further developed their model.
Bergwall even says in the film that he would not disappoint the therapists by admitting that he had lied. The Confessions of Thomas Quick further claims that both therapists and investigators put words in Quick's mouth to help him, and therefore gave explanations that matched the facts of the case. In addition, he should have drawn inspiration from the explanations of serial killers he read about, such as Reality's Dahmer and Fiction's Bateman.
Simplex. It is both shocking and fascinating to gain insight into this, while at the same time reacting to the film's rather one-sided production. Admittedly, the filmmaker has interviewed Supreme Court Judge Göran Lambertz, who on several occasions has defended the convictions of Quick. But several of the most centrally involved therapists and investigators must have declined to participate in the film. It would undoubtedly have been their place to gain their perspectives, which counterbalance the film's excessively black-painting view of the role of psychiatry in the case.
Brian Hill seems to rely to a large extent on journalist Jenny Küttim, who worked with the now deceased Hannes Råstam on the Quick case for several years, and which is a key interview object in the film. In addition, Bergwall himself has expressed his willingness to participate. It is undeniably interesting to hear him give his version, but the film can be accused of being a bit naive in its approach to the protagonist – although he should not have given any restrictions on what the filmmaker could record. Admittedly, the film does not fail to address the responsibility Bergwall himself admits that he has to face the relatives, who again stands unanswered after he presumably misled the investigation with his lies. But one can just as well point out a certain irony in that Hill with this documentary again gives Bergwall the attention that should have driven him to this in the first place, and which may well have an impact on how he portrays events in the film.
System Failure. There is little doubt that many have failed on many levels in this matter. After extensive scrutiny in Sweden, strong criticism was directed at the country's forensic psychiatry, police, prosecuting authorities and Bergwall's own defenders, for being deceived by the confessions. A Norwegian report later that year concluded that the police here at home were also not critical enough in their investigation of Bergwall. Obviously, such statements also give some support to the film's endings.
After the film's crushing judgment on certain directions in psychiatry, it is somewhat surprising that it concludes with a quote from just a psychoanalyst. However, the same words by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann are also quoted in Dan Josefsson's book The man who stopped lying, which defies much of the same view as Hill's movie. And the quote points to a significant part of the answer The Confessions of Thomas Quick gives the question of how this could happen. Here it says: "Loneliness seems to be such a painful and daunting experience that people do practically anything to avoid it."
The Confessions of Thomas Quick was recently shown at the Eurodok festival at the Cinematheque in Oslo, and is shown at VGTV at Easter.