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Missing (1982) - Film Review

Updated on May 12, 2011

Set in Chile, during the Chilean coup of 1973, Charles and Beth Horman are a couple of liberal American citizens residing wherever journalistic opportunities present themselves. As the military coup grows, Charles begins to report on the situation and travels around with his friend Terry Simon to do so. Along the way they see squads of troops on the move, corpses littering the streets of Chile and US military officers involved where you wouldn't expect to find them. One of these men, Carter Babcock reveals some mysterious information about the onset of martial law and leaves the impression that he knows far more than he's willing to tell Charles. With the rising level of erratic violence, Charles is desperate to return home to Beth but unfortunately, in the days before they can fly out Charles is arrested and taken away. The proceeding events involved Ed Horman, Charles’s father, who traces the events to find out what really happened to his son, and finds a web of international lies and scandal. Thus, Ed exposes American involvement in Chile for its corruption and two-faced nature with the immoral Chilean coup of 1973 to the audience. 

Ed had tried his best to push the issue of his missing son within the US political system but it appeared that the only way to make any progress was to be there in person, with Beth. The situation isn't quite that simple though since Charles doesn't actually like Beth, because he disapproves of her left-wing paranoid views of authority and shows distain for her frivolous attitude and distrust of the US government. Ed firmly believed that the US authorities in Chile are the people to trust since they're bound to exert every effort in their search for Charles. Thus, Ed represents the common American who is ignorant in the eyes of the country’s true motives. But as Ed spends more time in Chile, he finds that his American allies within the consulate take on a frustrating tone. Each time they're were promised that some action will be taken and yet they never seemed to get any closer to a solution. They continuously get the run-around and are constantly given new information only when Ed and Beth find it out for themselves. Beth takes Ed on visits to eyewitnesses, friends and associates with fragments of information. Gradually Ed constructs a picture of Charles that differed with the layabout, radical persona that he'd given his son. 

This transformation provides the freedom to investigate much further, without relying on US officials, and to partially comprehend why Charles disappeared. Ed finds out that apparently Charles knew a little too much about the US involvement in Chile, sparking his capture from the Chilean government and execution. There is a scene in which Ed pleas for his son to show his face in a crowd of several nameless faces at a stadium converted into one massive detention center used to hold prisoners and execute them if need be. It's the first moment we really see a crack in his demeanor and his faith in his country's ability to protect its citizens abroad. It is from that point forward he no longer allows himself to hold back his emotions as he realizes he may never see his son again. Throughout the entire film gunshots and low-flying helicopters offer up background noise as the coup plays itself out in a horrid tone. You watch as Ed jumps every time a gun goes off while others remain calm as they have come to grips with the reality of the situation and the destruction it has brought. Another scene shows Chilean military officers ripping girls clothes to expose their legs since that is how “true” women should present themselves in the new Chile. This exposes the evils of the Chilean coup to the audience and causes them to feel animosity toward the Chilean coup cause and the possibility of American involvement. 

As an exploitation film, Missing has a great deal to impart on the behavior of the US in foreign countries. The main idea expressed is that Americans, namely Ed, like their way of life and the Government works to sustain this, yet the citizens are quick to decry secret operations when knowledge of them becomes public. Its hypocritical notion as people's priorities shift when the matter becomes personal as in Ed’s case. The surrounding chaos and the lose of an American son as exposed by his father’s investigation shows us the price for American freedom through the unjust actions of its covert operations. Missing exploits this realization to its audience as a form of awareness, action, and persuasion. 


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