Todd Biro explains things more fully. “She did worse than kill him,” he says. “She took away the thing that means most to a man.”
That foundational disconnect—the woman’s body, assumed to be vague and mystical, a matter of contingency and of Cartesian magic; the man’s, so powerful and purposeful that losing his penis becomes worse than losing his life—permeates Lorena’s story. The man’s body, glorified; the woman’s, commodified; the man’s body, assumed to belong to himself in the most intimate and implicit of ways; the woman’s body, answerable to everyone. (“I don’t even buy this whole thing, that he was raping her and stuff,” Howard Stern said on his show, in the ’90s, when John came on as a guest. “You know, she’s not that great-looking.”) Lorena was marketed as a nuanced consideration of a single act of violence; it is in fact an exploration of the layers—of power, of privilege, of difference, of indifference—through which one person comes to assume that he is entitled to the body and the loyalty and the love of another. Lorena, when she first married John, a dashingly handsome marine, thought she was living a fairy tale; Lorena acknowledges how easily, for so many women, the dream that is sold to them becomes a nightmare.
Near the end of the series, the filmmakers sit with their main subject in her home in Virginia, which she shares with her partner, David, and their 13-year-old daughter. Lorena reads through a large pile of letters and greeting cards she has received over the years. They are from John, she says. She reads some of them out loud for the camera. “Dear Lorena,” goes one, “I miss you very much and if there was a choice to have any woman in the world, it will be you. I love my wife, I love your heart, and I love you very much. From, your cold, insensitive husband.” Another reads, “Lorena, do you remember when you told me that I didn’t know how to treat a woman? Well, you were right. I didn’t know how to treat or love you.” Another announces, “I just wanted to let you know that I thought about you today. And, like always, it made me smile.”
Lorena’s large table is completely covered with the scattered letters and cards. As she narrates the notes, old photos of her—one with a black eye, another with a broken lip—flash on-screen. Those are followed by images of more communications—texts, emails—John has sent her, she says, over the years: “Yes I was a bad husband” in 2009; “Goody morning sexy” in 2010; a picture of Joey, from Friends, captioned “HOW YOU DOIN?” appearing within a series of Facebook messages sent just after a Valentine’s Day. Lorena’s voice is both sad and resigned as she reads the words sent by the man who keeps pursuing, who keeps revising, who keeps insisting. One of the letters, scrawled in looping cursive, is signed, “Your Eternal Flame, John.”