Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka

Karla Movie Review

By Katherine Ramsland

Karla DVD Cover
Karla DVD Cover

It was a daring thing to do, but writer and director Joel Bender made a true-crime drama based on the infamous story of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. Karla was quite controversial when released in Canada in 2006, and some groups even tried to block it.  They were unsuccessful.  Now it's available on DVD.

The context is Karla's preparation for a parole hearing eight years into her sentence.  She's forced to tell a psychiatrist (Patrick Bauchau) her sordid tale and to explain herself, although she fails to adequately provide her motivation.  She likes to fall back on, "You don't understand," whether it's to Dr. Arnold or to a victim about to die.  It seems that she truly believes her situation is unique.  It's not.  She's just another person telling herself one lie after another to maintain her own self-interest.

Misha Collins plays Paul, with Laura Prepon as Karla.  Both do well with their roles, and given Collins' ability to use male beauty to overlay the true evil of Bernardo's thoughts and behaviors, at times we're convinced that Karla might resort to anything to keep him.

Actors Misha Collins and Laura Prepon
Actors Misha Collins and Laura Prepon

The film adopts Karla's point of view throughout, and if you believe the performance you'll regard Karla as the prototypical battered wife and compliant accomplice.  This can get annoying for anyone familiar with the facts, but in the end it's made clear that her story is pretty much a self-serving "reorganization" of what happened: she never apologized to victims' families, never expressed public remorse, and seemed as narcissistic upon her release as she'd ever been.  In fact, she readily got involved with another murderer. One would think that had she actually come to her senses once she was free of the alleged spell cast by Paul Bernardo, she'd see how terrible murder was. But, no, she seems able to dismiss murder committed by someone else if she desires him. 

What's missing in this film is how Karla had studied the battered woman syndrome before acting the role for court-appointed psychiatrists, as well as material about her life at Club Fed, as the prison was called. Her picnics and fashion shows might have undermined her "poor me" tale.  Her BA degree in psychology is interesting, too, considering how little insight she appears to have about her years with Bernardo. 

Even during the too-brief trial scene, a telling point was left out. As Bernardo tries to pin the three murders on Karla, claiming she was jealous of his attention to the girls, it was said that the bruises on the backs of the two strangled girls were closer in size to her knees than his.  While this suggestion had no impact on the outcome of the case, it might have been worthwhile to state it.

In addition to the film, the DVD offers deleted scenes that contain important information about what these two did, along with three lackluster bonus features that add more facts.

Over all, the film follows the case closely, as per court records and true crime accounts, and provides viewers with a glimpse of the way a psychopathic rapist can pass as a clean-cut, beloved pretty boy.  While Collins, like Bernardo, is quite attractive, he gradually loses his appeal to all but Karla, and her insistence on staying with him and helping to rape and kill shows her for what she is. 

"I'm not a psychopath," she tells the evaluating psychiatrist, as if he'd believe that a psychopath would truthfully admit it while hoping to get his vote of confidence.  Indeed, as she says it, she uses classic female maneuvers to win sympathy.  Her lack of remorse or insight, her ability to move on quickly (she has sex with a stranger soon after she leaves Paul), her easy lies, and her near-deadpan emotions over the murders indicate a different tale than the one she's telling.

The film is worth seeing, if only to learn about the dynamic between two narcissistic people who freely violate others and treat people as pawns in their game — even Karla's own sister.  If anyone believes she was truly a battered wife who had no choice but to participate, they aren't watching closely.


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