A nuanced take is the only way to understand Ted Bundy

Courtesy of Associated Press

Coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of his execution, the late convicted serial killer, Ted Bundy, is rising once more into the limelight. While a consistently contentious subject since the 1970s, this year has seen a resurgence in popular discourse surrounding him. Undoubtedly, it can be largely attributed to the recent release of the new film, titled “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil.”

While there have been other movies and documentaries centering around Bundy, this one in particular has incited much controversy due to what some refer to as the “romanticization” of the notorious murderer. There is a substantial portion of the population expressing their unhappiness with his allegedly glamorized image in the new movie; many such people complained that this is an insult to the families of his victims. However, it is essential to remember that Bundy’s trademark allure and amiability was a vital reason for his success as a violent criminal, and one of the major reasons behind his infamy. Furthermore, this cinematic piece was intended to encapsulate him through the eyes of one of his long-time girlfriends, who initially believed his innocence. Therefore, to redact this side of him for a sense of morality would be to detract from the ultimate truth of the story.

There is no doubt about Bundy’s culpability – all related evidence pointed towards him, and in the last few years leading up to his death, he confessed to every single accusation that had been levied against him. During the 1970s Bundy was charged with committing various acts of homicide across the country, slaughtering over thirty women. Given the horrific nature of his numerous crimes, it is something of a wonder that he managed to evade justice for so long. This is in part due to faulty law enforcement techniques, forensic technology having been much more underdeveloped at the time, but perhaps most importantly, Bundy’s careful cultivation of his outward self. A well adjusted, mild mannered law student with a fairly handsome visage, it was difficult for many to imagine someone like him engaging in such abhorrent activities. That eerie unexpectedness is a large part of what makes Bundy so unique – the implication that someone like this could be lurking just around the corner; the idea that this person could be your best friend, an amicable neighbor or a member of your family.

It is this disturbingly real aspect of the serial killer that the upcoming film is attempting to bring to light. There is some desire to do away with the notion that Bundy was anything other than a vile killer, stating that it is a serious offense to the victims and their families to present him in another manner, but the fact remains that Bundy was more than that. To even suggest such one-dimensionality is to downplay and erase the true insidiousness of his actions, which is an affront to said families in and of itself. He was an upstanding member of society as a son, friend and boyfriend. And the movie, being set in his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer’s unique perspective, allows the audience to better experience this danger of Bundy as the convincing and winsome man that he was.

Like others, Kloepfer was not aware of his murderous predisposition when they first began dating. Granted, throughout the course of their relationship, Koepfer became privy to him in a different way from most everyone else, and even so she still suffered from his deceit. The casting of Zac Efron as the lead serves a similar purpose. His conventionally handsome face and personable air pushes the audience to be uncomfortable, and to remember that this is what his victims were up against. Indeed, one of the survivors, Kathy Kleiner Rubin, spoke out on this harrowing issue, declaring that she did not take any offense whatsoever to the movie; her reasons being that it was important and necessary to show and understand Bundy as he truly was – in the hopes that by doing so, other women would remember to take care and be more aware of the people around them.

The anticipated cinematic piece, “Extremely Wicked and Shockingly Evil”, is an intentional exploration of the duality existing within the person who was capable of committing execrable sins while continuing to deceive and lead a relatively normal life. Any attempts to paint an entirely negative picture of Ted Bundy would not be indicative of the whole truth, and consequently, would be an injustice to the victims and their families. The point of the tale is not simply to reiterate the famous and terrible crimes to his name, and nor is it to a calculated move to humanize him; instead, it serves to provide fresh perspective and real insight into the life of one of America’s most prominent serial killers.

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