On Thursdays, we watch a lot of true crime documentaries. Not because I particularly enjoy them, but despite that, I watch them with interest. Consequently, I’ve also started watching more movies based on true crimes lately. So when The Boston Strangler came up (as a film), it seemed intriguing to me. Fortunately, it’s not just about the murders.

Serial Killers are Peculiar

For me, it’s such a strange concept that someone intentionally takes another person’s life. I can’t fathom someone who does it repeatedly. However, the film doesn’t focus on the killer. Ultimately, the film delves much more into the reactions to the crimes. Because many of the earlier victims lived on the fringes of society, the Boston police didn’t take their disappearances seriously. Not at all. It wasn’t until the murders were written about in the media that action was taken.

The central character in the story is a young journalist. She works full-time at a time when it wasn’t normal for women to do so. Her husband “agrees,” which was even more unusual. Despite being a skilled investigative journalist, her boss only assigns her fluff pieces on fashion and makeup. However, she really wants to step into crime journalism. It’s only when the men in her department dismiss a story about a killer targeting women that she seizes her opportunity.

Prejudices and Sexism

Women only want to read about how to look beautiful for their husbands, how to cook delicious meals for their husbands, how to raise their children properly. There was indeed a time when these stereotypes pigeonholed women into roles that not all of them felt comfortable in. The journalist in the film, Loretta McLaughlin, persists and seeks support from another female journalist who is in the position she aspires to be in. Their eventual collaboration is the strength of the film: you see that when women work together, they can accomplish a great deal. Ultimately, their investigative work provides many leads for the police. The police only become interested when the murders are highlighted in the media.

In the film, you get the impression that the ladies eventually earn the respect they deserve, but I doubt it, to be honest. When their photos are featured alongside articles about the murders, there are some rather nasty reactions, mainly from men. For the editor, it’s a stunt: look at these two women describing a murder! For some readers, it’s an invitation to try and harm these unnatural women. Just as some victims are often accused of provoking their attackers by deviating from what is considered the ‘norm’ for women.

A Great Story, Murders are Secondary

This is not a film about the murders. It’s not a typical sensational film like Se7en or Silence of the Lambs. It’s a film about the determination of two women who want to tell their story and the stories of women who went unheard. It’s quite different from another film (1968) about this serial killer, not long after the ‘killer’ was captured. In that film, there are only two or three minor roles for women. The rest of the characters are all men. Worse yet, the main character is the suspect, who in that film commits the murders because he’s so messed up inside that he strangles women.

The notion that the women who were killed brought it upon themselves (after all, they opened their doors, and they lived alone) is depicted as absurd in the newer film. Of course, this is also because we now have a different perspective on gender equality. But at the same time, it feels like we’re not so far removed from the ideas of the 1950s and 1960s. This film is more intriguing because it focuses on those strong female journalists. The serial killer is just a minor and insignificant character as a person.

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