It’s been fifteen years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The coordinated actions of 19 men–largely Afghani and Muslim–killed nearly 3,000 people, injured 6,000 others and caused $3 trillion in damages. As a result, the United States simutaneously invaded two countries in a decade-plus fight on terrorism. But time has a funny way to warp and erase memories. Although it’s easy to recall where you were and what you were doing during the attacks, it may be harder to remember the paranoia and black-and-white thinking that happened in the weeks and months following the attacks. Psychologically, the country paralyzed: like a deer caught in the headlights, the United States–a country not used to warfare or terrorist attacks on its own soil–took some time to wake up. It’s important to keep in mind these foggy days to understand the context of An Eye for an Eye.
The documentary follows filmmaker Ilan Ziv as he develops a friendship with convicted inmate Mark Stroman, who in September and October of 2001 went on a killing spree, targeting Middle Eastern immigrants working at gas stations and convenience stores; he killed two men and severely injured a third, Rais Bhuiyan, who, we find out, would later become one of Stroman’s biggest advocates. Convicted in 2002, Stroman spent nine years on Texas’s death row, and the documentary follows the years-long battle to get Stroman a reprieve.
In many ways, the documentary is your typical journal-entry documentary, with Ziv, an Israeli-born filmmaker, recalling in voice-over narration his experiences meeting Stroman. What sets the movie apart, however, is its unprecedented video access, making the documentary an interesting meditation on the meaning of justice and vengeance. For although Stroman’s crime scenes are traditionally easy targets for robbery, robbery isn’t Stroman’s motive. Rather, it was vengeance. Within a week-and-a-half of the 9/11 attacks, Stroman began targeting brown-skinned people whom he perceived as Muslim for revenge for the terrorist attacks. Ziv visited Stroman in jail, where he spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. Fortunately for the audience, Ziv was able to take his camera, and we are privy to watching Stroman open up and talk about his narrow outlook, his racism and his desire for revenge. Even eerier is the video tape from the gas station where Stroman killed one of his victims. Both the video and audio are crisp. As if to back up Stroman’s claim that he was seeking revenge for 9/11, he doesn’t take money or merchandise.
We see his surviving victim, Bhuiyan, who took home videos of his pilgrimage to Mecca, where he had his realization that he should forgive his attacker, despite causing Bhuiyan’s partial blindness. He becomes active in attempting to have Stroman’s death sentence commuted. And at the end of the film, many of the allies and friends Stroman has made during his incarceration gather to witness his execution, and yes, Ziv’s camera is there, adding haunting images.