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Johnny Vs Amber review: When a relationship goes horribly wrong, is recording one another really therapy?

If you’re like the millions who are watching the Johnny Depp trial live online, this Discovery+ documentary is a must watch.

May 28, 2022 / 04:43 PM IST
During the trial, Johnny Depp's ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse. 'Johnny Vs Amber', a two part documentary on Discovery+, sifts through the mountain of evidence in the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard defamation case, to look at both sides of the story.

During the trial, Johnny Depp's ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse. 'Johnny Vs Amber', a two part documentary on Discovery+, sifts through the mountain of evidence in the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard defamation case, to look at both sides of the story.


The headlines were big, bold and awful: ‘Johnny Depp loses out on his role in the Harry Potter franchise!’, and ‘Johnny Depp loses his role as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates movie!’ You wondered why, what and how this had happened to an actor who had fabulous movies like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and Donnie Brasco under his belt, not to mention the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And Amber Heard! What a beautiful model, and actor (though I must admit that I had never really heard of her until I reviewed Rum Diaries).

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Johnny Vs Amber, a two part documentary on Discovery+, sifts through the mountain of evidence in the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard defamation case, to look at both sides of the story. (No verdict was reached in the case on May 27 and the jury is expected to return for deliberations on May 31, 2022.)

But why make a documentary about a trial that was publicly broadcast and widely followed globally, you ask?

For audiences like you and me who want to know more than just the juicy ‘goss’, who care for a woman who may have been wronged, and also worry about the guy who cares enough to wear the Jack Sparrow costume and visit the hospital and bring joy to children suffering from cancer.

The truth perhaps lies somewhere in-between, but the documentary has insights from lawyers, friends and media persons. In addition to the lawyers who represent both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, it takes inputs from the hotshot lawyer who represented the tabloid that Johnny Depp was suing.

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The interest in the lives of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is not just about mad fans screaming for justice. We watch because we are fascinated by people who seem to be perfect, have relationships that seem to be perfect that we cannot wrap our heads around when ugly facets of their lives are revealed. When Brittney Spears was fighting to regain control of her life, we saw how harsh and unfair the terms of her conservatorship were. She lost so much money to her father’s and her estate’s lawyers…

Johnny Vs Amber is non-judgemental. If you see lawyers finding fault with one side or the other and the media persons explain why, it is the friends who speak up for both Johnny and Amber and make the case for me.

How did a non Hollywood born actor who earned so much fame just up and leave his family, his marriage of 14 years with Vanessa Paradis? What did he see in Amber Heard? Why did a young Amber fall for a much older man in Hollywood and give in to the May-December trope that everyone looks down on? Did she need his support in her career? These are just questions that make you think when you watch the trial unfolding live online. This documentary has perfect timing.

The documentary starts with Johnny Depp suing the British tabloid newspaper The Sun for a headline that screamed: Johnny Depp is a wife beater.

With all that Live on YouTube lawsuit that so many of us have been watching, I watched the documentary wanting to see what prompted a very famous man, married to a very famous woman, to break up the marriage when smitten by a younger woman who ‘got into his head’. And boy! I was triggered so many times I had to put a pause on the documentary and get myself a strong cup of coffee.

The first part will make you feel awful. How can someone claiming to be a victim change their story so many times and record on video arguments that she started and then claim to be the one who’s been hurt? The story that Johnny Depp is telling appears to be true. She was manipulating him mentally because she could. She was taking advantage of his love and pushing his buttons.

The second part, though, shows how the bruises progress. From just a red mark to the black and blue and the darkening and then fading. Is Amber really being hurt by the man who is more powerful in the relationship? What if he’s really jealous of her rising fame and wants to be the ‘famous’ one in the relationship. I was dismayed at the language that Johnny Depp used in text messages to his friend to describe Amber. Yes, someone accidentally shared thousands of text messages from Johnny’s phone that showed how much he disrespected her.

Those recordings - both audio and video - are mind-blowing. Although the audio recordings in the documentary will make you believe Johnny who seems to be pleading with Amber: please don’t do this, please don’t let the monster come out. But the video tapes show us Johnny losing his temper and taking it out on the cupboard. If he can kick the furniture, could he have hit Amber the way she has described? Is this what the monster does when it ‘comes out’? One of the videos shows Amber smirking in the ‘gotcha’ moment.

How is recording one another secretly and even openly therapy? People say many horrible things to one another in anger. One may be angry and the other calm because they know every word is being recorded. And with both parties being actors, who is to say that the words make sense even when taken out of context and after months and presented in court as evidence?

I felt bad for Amber at the disinformation and the smear campaign that was spread against her. Internet trolls can be vicious and we have seen this happen in India to many people. I don’t understand why there were so many fans screaming ‘Justice For Johnny’ and none for Amber. If you watch on YouTube Live from the courtroom where this drama of defamation claims that both have made against one another is playing out, you will realise that both have done awful things to one another. How do people get into such toxic relationships? What is it that keeps them going back to one another and hurting each other again and again? People who believe that unless we learn to forgive the other for whatever karmic debt that we have with them, and ask for forgiveness ourselves, that we will be forced to repeat this cycle of violence. I do hope that both these beautiful people who share such a toxic relationship get some kind of closure.

Until then we shall all be the voyeurs and watch the drama unfold on our social media screens.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.
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