Sorrow and its beauty

A suburban idyll goes awry

by Gabriel Shapiro

Jerry Springer, “The Real World,” “Survivor.” There is evidence of our fascination with voyeurism all around us. We might have spied on our neighbors as children or smiled upon overhearing a private conversation through paper-thin walls while walking down a dorm hallway. The desire to see what we rightfully should not is nothing new, but its exploitation by entertainment and news media lately seems to indicate just how much we want to see.

In his directorial debut, multi-millionaire and MovieFone founder Andrew Jarecki takes us deep into the dark heart of one family. What makes the Friedmans such a great documentary subject is their utter normalcy.

Prior to the father and youngest son being jailed for sex crimes against children, these people would have been most suburbanites’ ideal neighbors. However, here in highly homogenous Minnesota, being Jewish might be “too different.” Educated, highly thought of, these are the people that brought brownies to PTA meetings and carpooled.

The first thing that comes to mind is every news scene of a murderer or serial rapist being arrested and of a neighbor saying “He seemed like such a nice, normal person.” This statement is always baffling for two reasons. First, if the person in question seemed like a murderer or serial rapist, how long could he or she have gone on doing what he or she was doing? Second, what is “normal,” and what do murderers and serial rapists act like outside of the moment that they are committing their terrible crimes?

The conditions that we set as a society can come back to haunt us as they often do when the ones we believe are like us normal, regular people turn out to be the ones with something to hide. Normality becomes the shield, and knowing the marks of deviance only helps hide them. “Capturing the Friedmans” also casts doubt on the judicial system and the notions of “Truth” and “Justice” that we hold so dear and need to make our lives in society function.

We see the Friedmans’ own collection of family videos flashed on the big screen and feel as if we are peering through the gap in the curtains, but we end up seeing what we must never recognize: That “normal” is just an act we all play, and not real, and that we are all being seen through the curtain gap, watched by the unseen eye of the voyeur that we all are.

“Capturing the Friedmans” is directed by Andrew Jarecki. Now showing at the Lagoon Cinema, (612) 825-6006.

Gabriel Shapiro welcomes comments at [email protected]