Definitely one of the creepiest documentaries I’ve seen. If you’re interested (like me) in exploring the depths of psychological thrilling, murder mysteries and disturbing real life events, this is for you. I’ve always been enticed by watching documentaries, from cultural documentaries expanding on the lifestyles around the world, to looking at the realm of fashion and beauty to factual news reporting documentaries, I never thought of myself to be the Nancy Drew advocate of criminal documentaries.
The Imposter (2012) is a British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994. Following the film, the director Bart Layton takes you along in this spine tingling journey through the retelling of the day Nicholas went missing through the stories and recollections of his family. The impersonator, Frederic is also one of the main spokesperson in the film, and his thoughts and sharing are interwoven in this documentary so seamlessly that i often forget that he’s a serial mastermind in manipulation and not a relative of Nicholas.
What really gave me the chills as I sat throughout the entire film was the realisation of how fragile the human psyche is. Despite the obvious physical differentiations of him having brown hair and brown eyes and a darker complexion (Nicholas Barclay was blonde hair blue eyed and encapsulated the typical American teen boy), the imposter also was clearly years older than 16, with a subtle beard. However, the most prominent difference was that this man had a Spanish accent. Despite all this, Nicholas’ mother and sister have created this barrier of confronting the disturbing truths that this was without a doubt not the Nicholas that disappeared 3 years ago and started to create and recreate the Nicholas they so desperately wanted back. The fact that they couldn’t come to terms with this sense of reality really provided me with this profound concept of how weak yet strong our mental thoughts can overhold on us; allowing us to believe even the most lunatic situations to be our truths.
I started delving into the perspectives and lives of each character. Frederick, who never experienced love and a sense of belonging was foreign to these emotions which was the sole reason as to who he is today. I put myself in his shoes and thought how desperate I would’ve been to go to such lengths to transform into a new identity just to be able to familiarise myself with such a universally familiar concept; love. During the film, he realised that deep in the Barclay’s hearts, they knew he was not Nicholas, yet ‘they were so fixated and focused on finding him that they started to transform him to their beloved Nicholas’.
I then put myself in the family’s shoes, in particular the older sister (around her mid twenties) and the same questions swirled in my head the entire time….how can someone not recognise their own flesh and blood; your brother from 3 years and allow a stranger not only from their family, but from their country to replace him? And I couldn’t…. because the amount of heartbreak and mental torture and slavery battling inside their minds is something that no one really can understand unless it’s happened to them on a personal level.
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the documentary so I’ll keep this short but as you ascend further and deeper into the chaotic disturbances of the storyline, you come across another chilling plot-twist/s. This gripping documentary will leave you stunned and it has definitely opened my interests to looking into more criminal documentaries about the complex human mind.