One of the Most Shocking Documentaries On HBO Max Is Sure To Leave You Speechless
There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane is a heartbreaking look at a mysterious tragedy. Even after multiple viewings, I still have unanswered questions. But one thing seems to be certain: Even those closest to Diane Schuler didn’t know her as well as they thought they did. And that distinction makes what happened on the Taconic State Parkway in New York all the more heartbreaking. If Diane had gotten the help she presumably needed, this tragedy might have been prevented.
There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane chronicles the events surrounding the Taconic State Parkway crash that transpired in 2009. Diane Schuler drove the wrong way down the highway, with a van full of children, and caused a collision that claimed the lives of 8 people, including her own. The toxicology report revealed that Diane had dangerously high levels of alcohol and THC in her blood at the time of the collision.
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The film does an impressive job of tackling the heavy material depicted within. Perhaps most commendable is the compassionate way the filmmakers chronicle Diane’s story and the toll it has taken on those she left behind. We get a close-up look at the grief she caused, along with a bit of insight regarding the way her family has processed the tragedy and the conclusions to which they’ve come.
Director Liz Garbus takes great care to paint a complete picture of the woman behind the wheel that allows viewers to see Diane as more than just the woman that caused 8 deaths on the Taconic State Parkway. Throughout the course of the doc, we learn that Diane was abandoned by her mother at a young age and never really acknowledged that or processed that trauma. Additionally, we learn that Diane was prone to pushing her own needs to the side to take care of everyone around her.
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We also discover that Diane may have been self-medicating deep-seated pain she didn’t know how to share with those around her. One ultimately gets the impression that Diane didn’t really know how to let her loved ones in or ask for help. That doesn’t excuse what she did but it does have the potential to give the viewer a level of empathy and a certain amount of context regarding how Diane came to be intoxicated behind the wheel on that fateful day. The doc does a commendable job of holding Diane accountable but also ensuring her legacy is more than the sum of her mistakes.
There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane presents a number of compelling theories as to what may have driven Diane to the point of jeopardizing her own life and the lives of those in her care. But it’s not entirely cut and dried. We know that, in all likelihood, Diane knowingly consumed the alcohol and marijuana to numb physical and mental pain. We know she had serious dental problems that caused excruciating pain as well as severe emotional distress that went largely unaddressed. But there are so many unanswered questions regarding why she made those choices. And those unknowns give me a certain measure of empathy for her family’s refusal to believe Diane was actually intoxicated.
Even though she clearly was impaired based on the findings, Diane wasn’t known to be a heavy drinker or a heavy marijuana user. And she made it her life’s mission to be a good mother. So, for her to seemingly go from one extreme to another so abruptly is more than a little puzzling.
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A forensic psychiatrist interviewed for the documentary manages to shed some light on the state of mind of both Diane and her surviving family. A lot of what he had to say struck a chord with me. The doctor points out that when someone is demonized posthumously, the tendency is for those that loved that person to turn the person into a saint in their minds. And I think that makes it easier to understand where Diane’s loved ones may be coming from in their vehement denial that she could have been intoxicated. It’s easy to judge them for their unwillingness to accept the findings. But when viewed through that lens, it makes their state of mind a little easier to wrap one’s mind around.
After multiple viewings of this documentary, I still have more questions than answers. But one thing is for certain: There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane does a remarkable job of showing the subject as more than merely a sum of her mistakes.
If you’re curious to check out There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane, the film is available to stream on HBO Max as of the publication of this post.