During a weekend when the press was gaslighting, misdirecting, and manipulating most of America with a re-framed narrative, some of us were slumped in front of the television, watching the form of cinema that is both least interesting and most difficult to do well, the documentary.
Abducted In Plain Sight retells the story of how a young girl was kidnapped, raped, and imprisoned by a neighbor that the family trusted. Conducted in the modern style, the movie mixes rapid fire-shots of imagery from the past with recordings of phone calls, re-enactment, and present-day interviews with participants and peripheral characters.
As with most things in this day and age, the mechanics are well-studied and enabled by technology, so the production quality is excellent and the documentary lacks any major errors, glitches, or lapses in its maintenance of a somber but energetic mood that fits the subject matter.
The content proves wonderfully disturbing as the film starts out with a chronological narrative, then switches to the side narrative of the influence of abuser on the parents, and then resumes the timeline before looking more deeply into the psychology of the people involved.
As always, documentaries and news stories show us the 30,000 foot view that is more important than its altitude taken from a point of effect and not cause. That is, we saw how the events happened, and so we now see how easy it would have been to avoid all of the bad.
Unfortunately for us moderns, the show brings up another issue: how docile and easily misled people were back in the 1970s, or at least these people. Living in a secure and wealthy society, following a messianic religion, indoctrinated by democracy to look toward externalized sources of direction, these people were plodding through life by conforming to a pattern of existence — job, church, family — and had no idea how to direct themselves.
When a parasite appeared like a snake in Eden, he found it easy to appeal to their insecurities and lack of positive, creative, forward, affirmative, and constructive direction in their lives. Stranded in this inertia of obedience to an archetype, they never made decisions for themselves about who they were or what they actually needed, and so when a salesman showed up and offered them excuses for their failings, flattery, and reasons for their importance, they followed this pied piper to their own doom.
From a Generation X perspective, the real story of this documentary is how democracy makes people into sheep, and this leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. Law enforcement did not fail here; ordinary people did. Yes, the bad guy is every bit as vile and evil as one might expected, although more understated than the Hollywood version, but the real story here is about the inability to accept what was happening as seen in the decisions of ordinary and good (albeit not super-bright) people.
These documentary makers did a great job of letting this film takes it own course by allowing the statements of the participants to breathe. The best films of this nature let the participants tell you what is going on, rather than putting a political spin on it, and that allows the issue to tumble forth in fullness and the underlying slow burn crises to be seen.
While the bad guy is evil, he had a subtler precursor, which is the rise of radical evil in a society, both as cause and consequence of its alphabet soup of “isms”:
The failure of human moral agents to observe the moral law is symptomatic of a character or disposition (Gesinnung) that has been corrupted by an innate propensity to evil, which is to subordinate the moral law to self-conceit. Because this propensity corrupts an agent’s character as a whole, and is the innate “source” of every other evil deed, it may be considered “radical.”
In other words, the first bad choice — like that day in Eden, or when Captain Ahab first saw the white whale, even when the shepherd of Gyges found a magic ring — is to view self as more important than the world out there. One chooses the inputs from the brain over the analytical process of testing the world for its reaction and forming principles on that basis.
Abducted In Plain Sight shows us the effects of radical evil. Yes, bad people walk among us; they always have and always will. Our weakness to them starts with our acceptance of self-conceit over realism, which leads us into a type of herd behavior that makes us oblivious, and this gives the keys to the kingdom to those bad people.
Refreshingly, the documentary does not make this point explicitly. The viewer is left in a state of shock and an intense desire to figure out why this sort of thing happens so that it can be stopped, and that in turn leads us to look into what has gone wrong with the good rather than the perennial presence of evil. In that, this documentary is a triumph of provocative cinematic philosophy.