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[rewind] the imposter


Someone once told me we live our life around stories. The truth, and what I have come to grasp is that this world has the potential to be a great nightmare like the ones that keep us up at night.

This revelation occurred to me whilst watching The Imposter, a confronting documentary directed by Bart Layton that explores a conceptual theory of stolen identities, and how far people risk pushing the ‘boundaries’. Released in 2012, this British documentary has received eleven awards and fourteen nominations proving this film to be more than worthwhile. Concerning the kidnapping of thirteen year old Nicholas Barclay living in Texas, 1994, it deals with the basis of this crime that became even bigger when one man with no connection whatsoever to this teenage boy, robbed him of his identity in an attempt to save his own.

What becomes so thought provoking is not the crime itself but Frédéric Bourdin, the Frenchman whom posed as Nicholas, and is known as today as ‘The Chameleon’ for the astonishing 500 false identities he was indicted for. From all these, one stood out from the rest and evoked a long exploration into the questionable life of the Barclay Family. With a focus on the perspective of Bourdin through the extensive use of interviews and dramatic reconstructions of the main events I was captivated by his story. The motives behind why he was driven to defy the law by pretending to be a missing sixteen year old American boy, when clearly he appeared to be a much older foreigner was oddly engaging.

To my disappointment instantaneously it is revealed that he is in fact the ‘imposter’, hence the title. I expected more of a build up to this and a mystery that the audience would have to uncover themselves. But then again having expectations of this documentary will mostly likely not be met, the storyline presents something so different, compelling and complex it leaves you questioning what you know about the world.

There are two sides to every lie. An interesting tag line from The Imposter attempting to foreshadow a story that takes an angle to it that is unheard of. What you may think is an investigation into the mind of a psychologically deranged man, and how he found his way into the life of a family that for three years mourned for a little boy proves to be more a discovery of the betrayal and deceit, that potentially lies beneath the innocence.

Every moment builds tension, asks the audience more questions and tells the truth of a story that had been waiting to be told. Confronted by the reality that it represents, we can’t relate or sympathise with either Bourdin or the Barclay family; both are hiding something.  I became stuck in argument with myself determining who was the bad guy, until I eventually realised that something was quite off about each person involved in the story because they said things the way they believed so and so happened. Where’s the hard evidence?

We remain mystified by the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, how one severe crime lead to the possible discovery of what happened to that boy who failed to return home. Or did he? Critics say the less you know about The Imposter beforehand the more of an experience can be taken from it and I agree – not knowing what I was in for I consider this one of the most successful modern documentaries in the past years. Whether you prefer fiction or real-life, this story is surreal. It will scare you, enrage you, confuse you and make you reconsider the people you think you know and opens your eyes to who they are pretending to be.

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