Crime Investigation and the Bureaucracy in “Citizen X”
Chris Gerolmo’s (1995) movie “Citizen X” is probably one of the most understated yet brilliant films made along the serial killer and thriller genre. Clearly done within a low budget, the film nevertheless delivers the story of one detective’s hunt for one of Russia’s most elusive serial killers, Andrei Chikatilo (Jeffrey DeMunn). In the film, Detective Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rea), as a newly-assigned forensics expert, is tasked to solve the string of murders involving mostly children with very little support from those in the upper echelon of the chain of command. Arguably, the film is able to show not only the narrative of the detective pursuing the case but also sheds light on the legal and justice impediments contributing to the hardship of catching the serial killer in the Soviet.
Apart from showing the frustration of Detective Burakov, the film is also a commentary on the weaknesses of the Soviet justice and legal system in terms of handling Chikatilo’s case. It illustrates, for instance, how Detective Burakov’s efforts at solving the murder cases were hampered by the Soviet bureaucracy which kept the detective from getting much needed equipment, additional men, and assistance from colleagues such as the FBI. Likewise, Chikatilo’s evasion of the police and freedom to commit his murder spree was, in a sense, made easier by the Russian government’s denial that a serial killer phenomenon was impossible in the Communist State. The government’s insistence on keeping silent about the case also kept the public unaware of the crimes, which also made them more vulnerable to his activities.
On the other hand, the film also shows a positive aspect in Detective Burakov’s perseverance in pursuing the case despite many difficulties. The film also shows how Burakov’s superior, Colonel Fetisov (Donald Sutherland), tries his best to aid Burakov in his assignment although he himself appears to be helpless in the face of Russia’s bureacracy. It is, however, the Detective and his psychologist’s determination and persistence in going after Chikatilo that ultimately shines through in the film.
In the same manner, the film shows how the Soviet Police severely needs much improvement in the area of forensic investigation. Most of the detective’s works, for instance, are done with barely enough equipment needed to identify the victims and the culprit of the crimes. Clearly, the Soviet Police could take advantage of the latest digital and computer technology in speeding up their investigation, especially that lives are at stake.
Moreover, the film depicts Andrei Chikatilo as possessing and using Cleckley’s masks of sanity although it does not provide a deep explanation on his motivation for killing. Chikatilo, for instance, is depicted as a man who does not feel remorse or guilt for his deed despite the fact that he murders children, masturbating while stabbing them, and afterwards eats their genitals. He is calm when he commits these crimes, which enables him to cover his tracks well enough to confuse the police. Like most serial killers, Chikatilo is also unemotional and clearly suffers from sexual deviance.
Thus, the film “Citizen X” succeeds at telling the story of a detective’s struggle to catch Russia’s elusive serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. It is also able to show the audience how this detective had to endure the painstaking process of forensic investigation without the aid of advanced technology and enough support from the government, all for saving the lives of more children who could become victims for the serial killer.
Gerolmo, Chris. (1995) Citizen X. Home Box Office, Time Warner Entertainment Company, LP.