The Ripper

      Comments Off on The Ripper

The Ripper (2020) is a four-part documentary series by Ellena Wood and Jesse Vile about the Yorkshire Ripper that was released via Netflix. Formally The Ripper plays out like any number of true crime docu-series put out by Netflix. Archival footage from various news outlets, contemporary interviews, reenactments and photo montages are all aesthetic devices used by the filmmakers to substantial effect. What makes The Ripper something more unique is a matter of content.

Usually in true crime documentaries the focus is either on the investigation or in creating a portrait of the criminal, which in this case is Peter Sutcliffe. While The Ripper may best fit into the former category, to say the film is primarily concerned with the police investigation of Sutcliffe’s crimes would be misleading. More than anything The Ripper is about a misogynistic culture that enables people like Sutcliffe while oppressing and demoralizing women. Wood and Vile seem to see the events surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper case as a kind of dramatic framework.

The real story of The Ripper is one of victims. Wood and Vile show through the myriad of technical strategies outlined above that the women murdered by Sutcliffe were merely Sutcliffe’s victims first. After that, when their bodies were found, these women were subjected to the cruel imagination of the Yorkshire police department and misrepresented, shamed, humiliated, and demoralized. Later, the media took a turn, propagating the police department’s false picture of these women in a public forum, inviting further scrutiny and shame. What is revealed is a system that enables someone like Sutcliffe, blames the victims, and then works to keep the public following the party line.

At one point Wood and Vile take the viewer into the protests by women against the police who have, at that point, essentially made it impossible for women to go out at night. This systemic attack on the autonomy of women as a supposed “precaution” is ludicrous. When these events unfold midway through the third of four episodes it is already abundantly clear that the investigating officers have been utterly incompetent. They have ignored the statements of various survivors, they have ignored proof that certain pieces of evidence are a hoax, yet they have at every turn sought to brandish sex workers as “less than” citizens and restrict the liberties of women.

The Ripper reminds us viewers that the rampant violence of the police is not restricted to the physical but also manifests itself in the sexist/racist rhetoric and behavior of these institutions. Wood and Vile, despite the appearance of a strong political agenda, seem to give the police every chance to exonerate themselves. Again and again the film cuts to the police, what they are doing in footage from the late seventies and what they are doing now, and not once does anyone make any statement to contradict the fact that the police were incompetent investigators and active misogynists. It’s a frightening portrait in which those sworn to protect and to serve are just as cruel as Sutcliffe himself.