A haunting portrait of Sweden’s first and only serial killer, Brian Hill’s The Confessions of Thomas Quick reimagines the collaborative nature of storytelling.
Psychoby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The ’90s were a prolific time for serial killer movies – from The Silence Of The Lambs via Copycat to American Psycho, capturing our imagination as we attempt to understand the modus operandi and motivation of some of history’s worst killers – such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Aileen Wuornos. But in Scandinavia, another kind of killer frenzy was going on, as a team of police detectives and psychotherapists investigated the confessions of Sweden’s first and only serial murderer Thomas Quick. Treated at Säter Psychiatric Clinic by the best of the best, including Margit Norell and Birgitta Stahle, Thomas Quick soon became their star patient, as they attempted to uncover his repressed memories of childhood and explain Sweden’s unresolved murders.
Sture Bergwall grew up with his six siblings, underloved by a depressed father and an overworked mother. But it was his homosexuality that put the lonely boy onto the wrong path, as he touched class mates, wrote dark poetry about devouring his lovers and got hooked on benzodiazepines. After a loving relationship with an older man who then committed suicide, Bergwall was arrested for molesting young boys and treated with psychoanalysis. After almost ten years of quiet during the ’80s, Bergwall became addicted to drugs again and committed an armed robbery, violently intimidating a bank manager’s wife and son. Taken into custody, he’s once again given psychotherapy, where – keen to understand himself – he falls into the arms of shrinks. And as he starts to make confessions, their loving embrace becomes even tighter.
Murderer, rapist, paedophile, cannibal – Thomas Quick was certainly Sweden’s worst killer. While Sture Bergwall on the other hand was simply a fantasist, homosexual and incredibly lonely, inventing his sordid tales of murder to impress and bring him closer to his therapists. Inspired by real-life cases, such as Jeffrey Dahmer devouring parts of his victims, as well as novels, like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho where serial killer Patrick Bateman tries to uncover his victim’s spine from the inside out. And with the collaboration of psychoanalysts and police investigators alike, it’s a fascinating example of collaborative storytelling and groupthink, as all participants of this murderous cult somehow strive towards the same outcome. And with all the best intentions, allow the criminal investigations to be compromised by a wave of serial-killer mania, unspoken ambition, a worthy desire to solve cold murder cases and a lonely man’s thirst for connection.
Abused and humiliated by Thomas Quick’s lies, the therapists and detectives surrounding the serial murders refused to participate in the making of The Confessions Of Thomas Quick, which unfortunately turns Brian Hill’s documentary into something of a pillory of the well-meaning, progressive professionals surrounding Quick. But the real heart of darkness is Bergwall himself, whose lies prevent the murders from being properly investigated during their statute of limitations period, but whose institutionalised loneliness finds a resolution in the apologies to his siblings, and the tentative relationship with his brother in a life after prison. It’s an affecting ending, as Sture is overwhelmed by the beauty of nature he has deprived himself of for nearly 30 years, but it’s tinged with bitterness, as we witness the lengths one man will go to to avoid loneliness.
With overhead shots of the Swedish forests and Säter Psychiatric Clinic, Brian Hill’s The Confessions Of Thomas Quick gives the viewer the impression of being God – or at least judge and jury, as we listen to the talking head testimonies and are guided neatly to the film’s conclusion. For Sture Bergwall though, beyond the simplistic resolution of family, we’re unsure whether he’s resolved his past traumas enough to be able to carry on living alone. And while Brian Hill’s film succeeds in documenting the psyche-deforming difficulty for Sture Bergwall of accepting his sexuality while skirting the thorny issue of gay serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, who channeled their sexual confusion into murder, it’s a disturbance that remains unresolved. Preserved in the aspic of decades of lies, psychoanalysis and imprisonment, homosexuality remains the original sin in The Confessions of Thomas Quick – undesirable and untreated. Perhaps now an outdated agony rendered harmless by a hatred channeled inwards, for Sture Bergwall it’s a destructive bloodlust still.
The Confessions of Thomas Quick is released on 14th August 2014 in the UK