Our yearning for answers and the limits of knowing are at the heart of the intricately crafted, unsettling documentary “This Much We Know.” The director L. Frances Henderson based this very personal debut on John D’Agata’s lauded book “About a Mountain,” which deftly yoked the suicide of a teenager in Las Vegas to the Department of Energy’s since-scuttled plans to use Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of that city, as a repository for nuclear waste.
Henderson says in her poetic and philosophical narration that she discovered the book while searching for answers to a friend’s suicide. It drew her to Las Vegas, where in 2002 16-year-old Levi Presley leaped to his death from a tower. That same year, Congress was pushing forward plans to bury waste beneath Yucca Mountain. Like many of the words, data sets and facts here, Presley’s final act gets probed.
Certainty and doubt are juxtaposed repeatedly. In one scene, Vegas’s longtime coroner upends Henderson’s somewhat hopeful theory of an accidental suicide. In another, a confident engineer of the Yucca project is rattled by a quote Henderson reads to him stating that scientific truths can change.
“This Much We Know” opens with a frenetic re-enactment of Presley’s final hours leading up to when a security guard approaches him. This kind of flashy filmmaking sets an ethically disquieting tone the film never completely shakes, even after Henderson gently interviews Presley’s parents and his friends. As eloquent as it is, “This Much We Know” may also be exploitative.
This Much We Know
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Go here for resources outside the United States.