This documentary had my mind doing flips. Did he do it? Didn't he do it? He must have done it! But maybe he didn't... Capturing the Friedmans is one of the best documentaries ever made. The Friedmans was your average, loving family... until allegations against Arnold Friedman destroyed their world. He was charged with over 100 accounts of child molestation, as was his son Jesse. This documentary unfurls all of the drama, the history, the opinions, and the facts that surround such a dark, disturbing, and sad story.
Seeing the different interviews and opinions is what makes this an absolutely engrossing masterpiece. We see one of the sons proclaim his father's innocence based on faith and love, while he revile's everything about his mother because she would not stand behind her husband. We see the brother of Arnold, who couldn't believe what was happening and was tortured at seeing his brother in pain. We see the mother, who apparently didn't know what her husband had done, and then couldn't forgive him for doing it. Then we delve into who Arnold truly is, looking back at his unenthusiastic approach to having sex with his wife, to the effeminate way he acted in general. It was just amazing to see these conflicts and their history unfurl in such a brutally honest way... we might as well have seen the arguments happen. In some scenes, we really do see footage of the arguments. It's such a meticulous and interesting documentary.
There's another aspect to this film that I find very masterful in a way. Nothing is black and white in this film. There was never a statement about how he was a pedophile, thus making him a completely bad person. However, there were statements about how he was a good person, but he had sexual urges towards young boys. The thought of pedophilia, child abuse and cases such as these almost always make me cringe and want to 'throw the book' at the suspects being charged for the crime. Here, watching this documentary, I couldn't help but feel slightly... sympathetic towards Arnold. Before you condemn me, hear me out. If he did indeed abuse young boys, then of course he should be punished for it severely. However, I can never look at a person being mentally and physically tormented and say "well he deserves that." It's not in my makeup as a human being. The look in this man's eyes said it all in those many scenes of the aftermath. In short, I do believe he should have been sent to prison, but I do not believe he deserves to be tormented like an animal. This film evoked a sympathy from me that I didn't realise I had.
The straw that broke the camel's back, and truly disgusted me, was the police officer's and investigator's work ethic. Apparently, they told parents that they 'knew' that their kids were molested. When they did question some of the children, they said things like "Did he touch you?" Rather than "And then what happened." It reminds me of a film I've seen called 'The Hunt,' where a man was wrongly accused of pedophilia because a whole community took a child's lie as gospel truth, then questioned other children who subsequently said they were molested too. I feel like that movie is based on this situation, the only difference is that we don't know the whole truth to the Friedmans. One of the parents of the 'molested' children said that the police who talked to his son got to a point where they weren't "asking him what had happened, but telling him what had happened. When they didn't like what he said, they kept repeating to him that they know what happened and that they should tell." There is so much more evidence to this too. While the thought of all those children being abused is disgusting enough, I found the police investigators work ethic to be abominable. It added more drama and perspective into the whole fucked up situation.
There's one testimony that I have huge reservations about, and that is the lawyer of Arnold and Jesse. He claims that Arnold confessed to him something that just seemed so obviously fake. Then he also claimed that Jesse admitted to being sexually abused with tears rolling down his face. While I have no definite way of being able to say he was lying... just the look in this man's face while he was telling the story was enough. He looked like he was enjoying every second of his tale. Whilst smiling, he was recounting these 'unbelievable' confessions, which happened to be the only 'definitive' statements as to whether Jesse and Arnold were guilty or innocent. That man just rung completely false to me. BUT, it's interesting to get his perspective on the matter. I don't believe his testimony, but it's but another warped piece to a jumbled up puzzle.
What conclusions did I draw after seeing this film? I personally think Arnold did molest children over the years, considering he had stashes of child pornography and a typed up confession of one of these acts. However, I don't believe Jesse molested children. In the end, I was deeply saddened by this story. It's just devastating to see how it tore this family apart, and that at some point in Arnold's life, he sexually abused young boys. The music, and the montage of the happy family in home footage, combined to pack the powerful emotional punch to finish. Although it doesn't emerge with a clear telling of the truth, it does emerge to show a clear picture of the dysfunctional, love-hate family relationship. Perhaps the best thing about this documentary is that it leaves the audience to decide whether they believe Arnold was capable of doing such things, or if the police were capable of framing him, or if there are truths and lies in both sides of the story. I believe in the latter.