Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

The most terrifying aspect of Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans lies within its end credits. When the series of interviews and archival footage was laid down and presented –with hopes to draw a clearer vision to a family’s biggest cause of dysfunction – the truth remains blurry.

In 1987, Arnold Friedman was spending his thanksgiving night when the cops raided his home about reported child pornography linking to his address. They later learned that he was allegedly molesting several children in his basement, with his second son Jessie, disguising their acts of sodomy as computer teaching sessions.

When the family was interviewed for the documentary, it was Arnold’s ex-wife Elaine who is the least hesitant about his husband’s allegations. Their three sons, probably out of fear of losing a patriarchal figure in the group, are more than willing to believe that there’s no way 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 on the court that he was a pedophile, even sharing to his attorney his excitement when they are seated near a young boy jumping in his father’s lap, and on multiple events committed sexual abuse to the child victims, the family’s failure to set the records straight can be hauntingly problematic.

Capturing the Friedmans, like its family-in-focus, is wrapped around the many areas of dysfunction. It is a confused documentary in terms of how it was structured, presenting an idealistic, very traditional suburban family that isn’t there in the first place. It is also confused to the extent that it also eventually refused to continue its main case, and instead of being optimistic that the truths it is aiming will soon be discovered.

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