“A Gray State”
Reality and Belief
“A Gray State” is set in a dystopian near future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government. In January, 2015, Crowley was found dead with his family in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a rallying point for conspiracy theorists who speculated that Crowley was assassinated by a shadowy government concerned about a film and filmmaker that was getting too close to the truth about their aims. Directed by Erik Nelson “A Gray State” goes through Crowley’s archive of 13,000 photographs, hundreds of hours of home video, and exhaustive behind-the-scenes footage of David’s work in progress to reveal what happens when a paranoid view of the government blurs the lines of what is real and what people want to believe. The film takes us deep into some of the fault lines that are fracturing America as we are taken on “a dark ride through the tunnel of conspiracy culture, the trauma experienced by many veterans, celebrity worship, gun obsession, and the unforeseen consequences of an addiction to social media. But it is a dark ride that tries to point a way to the light.”
For several years, Crowley had been trying to make a feature film called “Gray State” and he was not the kind of man who would murder his wife and child and then take his own life.
We see a couple self-proclaimed “citizen investigators” dismiss the notion that the crime scene was what it appeared to be, darkly hinting at outside forces that wanted Crowley silenced. Instead, the movie sketches out the story of how Crowley transitioned from eager soldier to disaffected veteran, driven indie filmmaker and entrepreneur, and finally a broken-down paranoiac.
He left behind a wealth of video footage and friends. After a deployment in Iraq, he came home and married Komel just six weeks after meeting her. The Army then stop-lossed Crowley, sending him this time to Afghanistan. That tour of duty appears to have further darkened an already cynical worldview. Unlike most veterans, though, on his return to America, Crowley found solace for what was likely undiagnosed PTSD in the negative reassurance of online conspiracy theories. He enrolled in film school and was consumed by the idea of making “Gray State.”
His plan was to show was militia fantasies tailor-made for the post-“Matrix” conspiracy community. He seemed to be just throwing everything into the film: New World Order, FEMA camps, a mysterious entity implanting RFID chips into children (leaving a triangular scar probably meant to evoke the Trilateral Commission), scrappy white Americans leading an insurgency against the shadowy aggressors, and plenty of shootouts. Once
Crowley posted the trailer online and his presence on social media presence went viral. He became a kind of star. However, “Gray State” kept morphing and mutating and remaining frustratingly unfinished. Crowley didn’t seem able to either finish his movie in some altered fashion or move on to something else.
Nelson, a longtime collaborator of Werner Herzog’s (executive producer) brings together a stingingly emotional portrait of an outwardly confident and well-rounded man who was actually descending into madness. The footage of Komel is particularly tragic, since she was the one financially and emotionally supporting Crowley, only to possibly fall prey to the same delusional fever that overtook him near the end.
The behind-the-scenes material of Crowley’s home life also show dysfunction in his relationship with his wife, Komel and this is reinforced by her business partner. For Nelson, the tragic end of the Crowley family speaks to something much larger. You will have to see the film to understand what that is.