Missing

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Missing Movie Poster Image
Graphic portrayal of dictatorship's abuses is unforgettable.
  • PG
  • 1982
  • 122 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While painting a bleak portrait of American foreign policy and of bureaucracy in general, the film shows perseverance in pursuit of the truth and in the face of tremendous difficulties.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ed Horman stops at nothing to find out the truth about his missing son Charles, even as he confronts endless government red tape and outright lying. Beth Horman risks her life attempting to find out the truth about what happened to her husband Charles. Charles Horman is an idealistic writer working for social and economic justice in Chile.

Violence

The human rights abuses of a right-wing South American dictatorship are graphically presented in this film. The city in which the characters live is filled with the echoes of gunshots. There is blood on the street, dead bodies covered in blood. A dead body floats down a river. In a stadium, dead bodies fill the rooms.

Sex

Beth Horman freely discusses the sex life between her and Charles with Charles's father Ed.

Language

Some language, including "s--t," "f--ker."

Consumerism

While not promoting these products -- seeing how the film discusses how these corporations played a large role in the CIA-backed coup that placed a right-wing dictatorship in power -- the Texaco, Coca-Cola, and Ford logos are shown prominently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters are shown drinking beer, whiskey, and wine, but do not act intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Missing is the story of a father's search for his missing son after a right-wing coup in a South American country. There is violence in the form of gunshots and dead bodies, but unlike most violent films, the violence isn't intended to heighten action, but to underscore the deeper point of human rights abuses in a regime brought to power by the United States. By following Ed's discovery of what his government has been getting up to in a country where his son has been living, American foreign policy and the cruelties of dictatorships are brought into full focus. For parents familiar with American involvement in Latin America during the Cold War (and before), this film should provoke discussion about what government leaders say as opposed to what their governments actually do, and for families unfamiliar with this ugly chapter in South American history, Missing should prove a real eye-opener.

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What's the story?

Charles Horman is an idealistic young American writer living in a South American country with his wife Beth (Sissy Spacek). When a right-wing dictatorship takes over the country, thousands are arrested and taken prisoner, among them Charles. Charles's father Ed (Jack Lemmon) is a conservative businessman who, after receiving no cooperation from his senator and the State Department in America, flies to Chile to track down his son. What he discovers are terrible human rights abuses and his own growing disillusionment with a government and country he had always strongly believed in, as it becomes more and more clear that the American government -- in the name of "national interests" -- is complicit in supporting the dictatorship responsible for kidnapping his son.

Is it any good?

This indelible film is equal parts murder mystery and study of American involvement in the installation of a right-wing dictatorship in Chile in 1973. Through Ed's point-of-view (brought to life by the great Jack Lemmon), we learn the truth behind the lies of politicians speaking of championing "freedom" and "democracy" abroad. Ed's bureaucratic nightmare becomes our bureaucratic nightmare -- Kafkaesque in its absurdity -- and the film personalizes the politics of the situation by making this the story of a father trying to find his missing son.

Ed's disillusionment with his government becomes our disillusionment, as Ed learns that the interests of multi-national corporations trump freedom and liberty. While perhaps some might find this to be a bit too heavy-handed or preachy, research into American Cold War involvement in Chile in the early 1970s will show that this film stays true to actual events. While films rooted in distrust of government often feel cynical as a matter of course, the difference in Missing is that the film is rooted in a deeper idealism -- be it Charles's belief in economic justice, or Ed's unstoppable search for the truth.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in this film. What is the purpose of the violence portrayed? How does it underscore the message of the film?

  • Ed goes through profound changes over the course of the movie. How is his character presented early in the film, and what actions cause him to evolve?

  • What is film's role in politics? Can filmmakers use art for positive change? What about negative change? Or should film be purely for entertainment?

Movie details

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