Jun 26, 2014



A good documentary can competently present relevant information in a non-biased manner. A great documentary can do all that, but also challenge your preconceived notions on the topic being discussed. A fantastic documentary can present the info, challenge you, but also thrill you and affect you on an emotional level, presenting you with a story so unbelievable that you would bet your life that it was all completely made up on the spot.

The Imposter, which revisits the surreal 1994 case of a missing Austin child who suddenly shows back up three years later and is embraced by the family, but who is also a completely different person, is a fantastic documentary. To use a completely cliched expression, The Imposter is a roller-coaster ride of emotions. When first presented with the family of missing thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay, how do you not immediately sympathize for each member as they tearfully recall the events in which the boy went missing? And how, when you're first introduced to "the imposter" Frédéric Bourdin,  who talks about his background of physical abuse and his feelings of helplessness and his longing to reboot his life and start over and who longs for a real shot at happiness, are you not supposed to feel tempted to forgive him before you've heard about how he carried out his plan, or what effect it had on the Barclay family...or what kind of person he really is?

The Imposter is an immensely frustrating experience, and it has nothing to do with how it was executed, but rather everything to do with the complexity of the human brain, and how so easily it can be overridden by our rampant-running emotions. How can you be a mother or a sister or a brother to someone for thirteen years, mourn their loss and probable death when they go missing, celebrate at the news that "he" was found in fucking Spain of all places, be reunited with him, and believe that he is your missing loved one? How do you not know? How do you listen to claims that he was kidnapped by the military and experimented upon (a side-effect being the changing color of his eyes) and buy that? How do you not realize that the boy who claims to be sixteen years old is actually approaching his mid-twenties? It is so very easy for you and me to judge this family and assume they must have been completely empty-minded to have fallen for it...but then again, I have never been in their shoes. I've never had a loved one go missing, and even if I did, I can't even imagine how tempted I would be to believe they've returned to me all those years later, even if they do seem to be an entirely different person. Feelings of mourning and regret and guilt are normal following what is essentially death, but are they powerful enough to cloud everything in your mind?


And your imposter, Frédéric Bourdin, adds to the frustration. His first few interview segments are full-on confessional moments delivered right to the camera. And you silently judge him at the same time you delude yourself into thinking that he seems like such a haunted and genuine "character" that you stupidly believe you'll eventually be served a typical Hollywood happy ending, where the family realizes he is a fake but welcomes him, anyway. But this version of Bourdin soon fades and is replaced by the proud sociopathic habitual liar who cannot help himself. Watch him grin as he recounts what he feels are the more especially clever moments of his ruse. Watch him have the audacity to judge the family that took him in, asking the audience the question, "How could they not know?"

And try to stomach the claim he makes against the family, attempting to explain why they embraced him as easily as they did.

The Imposter ends with questions both answered and unanswered. It ends with revelations, but also ambiguity. It ends with emotions running untempered and a disgusting amount of pride. But one thing is for sure: it hasn't, nor will it ever end, for the Barclay family, and for Frédéric Bourdin. One will continue to mourn, and the other will continue to boast. The Imposter is beyond thrilling and beyond upsetting, and it's entirely, 100% true.

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