The Imposter (2012)

Director: Bart Layton

I knew the story behind this before actually watching it tonight (it’s been on my to-view list of stuff I’ve got from Youtube but it was on TV tonight so I just watched it that way). I thought it was bizarre then and I think it’s even more bizarre now that I’ve actually seen the film; it seems incomprehensible in theory, and even more so when you hear the people involved actually telling the story, especially when a twist in the tale comes in the last third or so that I hadn’t known about before… Anyway, said story revolves around a 13-year-old American boy, Nicholas Barclay, who goes missing in 1994, then reappears in 1997. In another country. So far, still plausible. There’s just the little matter of him not actually being the missing boy at all, not even looking or sounding that much like him. That’s not exactly a spoiler, of course; just look at the title. The said imposter is one Frederic Bourdin, who, as we discover, already had quite a history of impersonating other people (and would continue to do so even after this debacle), and to be honest I spent a large part of the film kind of irritated by how the film seemed to be presenting… maybe not positively as such, but certainly with some degree of sympathy for the most part; he comes across not as innocent exactly but certainly tossed about at the hands of a destiny that was out of his control. But the real victims, obviously, were the missing boy’s family who Bourdin deceived into thinking he was their lost Nicholas. And therein lies the real problem with this entire story: how could they possibly have not known this man was most definitely not their missing boy? It doesn’t make sense. But therein lies the more interesting question the film throws up: what if they DID know? In the last third of the film a private investigator following the case grows suspicious of Bourdin and ultimately helps bust him, whereupon he points the finger at the family for killing Nicholas themselves. In other words, they knew damn well he was an imposter and had a vested interest in welcoming him “back” into the family to cover their own tracks. There’s no particular reason to accept Bourdin’s tale, of course, him being an obviously chronic liar, and the family obviously deny it, but so much of the whole story makes so little sense Bourdin’s claim certainly doesn’t seem any more unlikely than the actually documented events. I’m thoroughly perplexed by the whole thing; The Imposter kept reminding me of an Errol Morris film on various levels, although unlike The Thin Blue Line I think the case it depicts is going to remain a murky one for a long time to come.

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