CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS is an artful approach to a genuine American tragedy.
The movie documents this seemingly successful, upper-middle class family’s rapid disintegration as horrible charges of sexual abuse and brutality are lodged against the father and 18-year-old son. There are correlations and references to the engrossing case of the McMartin sex abuse scandal as documented by television’s FRONTLINE program many years ago.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS’s unique perspective is made possible by the odd fact that the family’s eldest son, David, kept a video diary throughout the entire ordeal. He admits that he may have recorded the story on videotape so that he would not have to remember it himself. It is, therefore, an unpleasant and uninterrupted documentation of sin and its tragic effect on the Friedman family and the community.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS relies on home movies to acquaint us with Arnie and Elaine as they raise three young sons. Arnie is a retired award-winning school teacher who teaches piano and computer lessons to children in their upscale and peaceful Long Island neighborhood, but a child pornography magazine subscription tips authorities off to his perverse sexual interest in young boys. Subsequently, the home is raided, Arnie arrested on child porn possession, and the Sex Crimes Unit investigators begin to uncover other secrets. Within weeks, children from the computer classes held in the Friedmans’ converted basement tell detectives they experienced sexual abuse, violence and rape for the last three years. Arnie and his 18-year-old son, Jesse, are indicted and facing hundreds of charges of child sexual abuse.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS is, of course, disturbing and upsetting to watch, but it responsibly examines issues of betrayal, family dysfunction, abuse, community reaction and hysteria, and, eventually, the disintegration of relationships. In the end, there is even a little hint of reconciliation among some of the family members.
Truth, lies and the public’s reaction to this emotionally volatile subject contribute to the growing hysteria in the community. Claims of innocence seem less than credible and are quickly drowned out by victims’ claims and the intensifying media frenzy.
Just when the audience thinks they have discovered truth in this unfolding drama, something else surfaces which casts doubt on the veracity of the charges against these two men. While acknowledging that Arnie and Jesse are no saints, the story twists and winds toward truth and presents a troubling picture. Nagging doubts seem to crawl up right out of the theater seat and hold the viewer firmly in place until the shaky and shocking conclusion. The possibility exists that these men may be victims themselves, caught up in the merciless wheels of justice. More evidence surfaces: sloppy detective work and the probability that false memories were planted in the minds of victims through the use of hypnosis.
As a result, CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS runs the gamut of emotions. As wounded and betrayed family members reveal the depths of their pain, the story is just heartbreaking. Watching the chronicled disintegration, emotional denial and divorce of the family is very painful, too.
Most pronounced, though, and yet remaining unspoken, are several politically-incorrect and sensitive arguments: that homosexuality may be born out of early child abuse; that divorced families and issues of abandonment contribute to future dysfunction; and, that homosexuality and pedophilia are curiously linked in this sad and broken family.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS contains several blasphemies and offers no hope to the viewer presented with evidence of a broken system and, more important, broken lives. Suicide is even argued, at least by one family member, as the place where pain and guilt finally come to an end. Of course, the Holy Scriptures argue differently.
Though this movie deals with graphic subject matter, it intriguingly sheds the light of truth on tough and rarely-discussed issues. Christians will empathize, knowing firsthand of the devastating consequences of sin, and cling to the prayer in Psalm 79: “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”
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(H, B, HoHo, LLL, V, SS, N, A, MMM) Humanist worldview with some Jewish and spiritual elements present, but mostly adult-only content about allegations of a father and son's involvement in pedophilia and rampant sexual abuse, and it also contains strong language, harsh themes and the video documentation of a family destroyed; 29 obscenities (18 "f" words), two blasphemies, and five other uses of God's name in tense scenes (as in "Oh my God" and "Oh God!"); violence implied as father of victim attacks alleged abuser and family arguing is intense and cruel; graphic descriptions of sexual abuse from the perspective of detectives, victims and family members, discussion of rape and sodomy; no explicit nudity and nude photos obscured by fuzzy images or intentional close-ups, plus brief photos of child porn magazines; and, abandonment rebuked, Passover seder shown with wine drinking while family argues about criminal charges; suicide described and talked about often, father admits to viewing child pornography, molesting his younger brother, two other young boys, and being sexually excited by a four-year-old, lawyer admits he was disgusted by this, actions called "shameful," death threat phone message played for family, child porn shamelessly defended by family members in apparent denial, rampant message of homosexuality, men, women and children shown in bathing suits, and lying defended and rebuked.