Hot Docs 2016 Review: Off The Rails
Darius McCollum is a New York City resident with a love for public transit. Darius loves trains and buses so much that he has been infamously arrested 30 times over nearly four decades for repeatedly impersonating MTA employees. He doesn’t go for joyrides, or harm anyone, or have any interest in doing anything but the job at hand. He keeps things moving and on schedule, knows emergency procedures, and understands the value of a friendly-voiced announcement. The problem, of course, is that it’s all illegal.
To complicate matters, Darius has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome which he, and experts on the disorder, believe compels him to commit the victimless crimes over and over again. No matter how long the prison sentence, or how long in between arrests, Darius’ obsession persists over reason.
Off the Rails chronicles Darius’ storied life from childhood to his most recent arrest. By age 8, he had the entire subway system memorized and by 15, had driven subway trains semi-regularly. Over the years, Darius has logged hundreds of hours illegally driving mass transit vehicles and as a consequence, has spent about a third of his life imprisoned.
Despite the non-violent nature of his crimes and his Asperger’s diagnosis, Darius keeps getting put into maximum security prisons (he is currently in Rikers Island) without therapy or any recognition that his mental condition needs to be addressed. At one point, parole even kept him in NYC – you know, where the trains are – instead of in North Carolina with his parents. An ineffective criminal justice system and Darius’ inability to move forward towards a purposeful life make this an incredibly frustrating story and film. Oh, and his poor mother.