The most terrifying aspect of Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans lies within its end credits. When the series of interviews and archival footage has been presented and all is laid bare, the truth still remains blurry.
In 1987, Arnold Friedman was spending a quiet Thanksgiving night when cops raided his home on reports of child pornography linked to his address. They later discovered that he was allegedly molesting children in his basement, assisted by his second son Jessie who disguised the acts of sodomy as computer lessons.
When the family was interviewed for the documentary, it was Arnold’s ex-wife Elaine who is the least hesitant to open up about her husband’s allegations. Their three sons, likely in fear of losing a patriarchal figure, were less willing to believe that their father was a child abuser.
With these conflicting insights, the biggest crime caught in Capturing the Friedmans is the subjects’ submission to their own beliefs. Although Arnold eventually pleaded guilty in court, even sharing with his attorney his excitement at being seated near a young boy in his father’s lap, the family’s failure to set the record straight is hauntingly problematic.
Capturing the Friedmans, like its family-in-focus, is tangled in a web of dysfunction. It is a confused documentary in terms of its structure: presenting an idealistic, traditional suburban family that doesn’t actually exist.