Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes a person’s desperation can cause them to avoid the truth. Bart Layton‘s The Imposter (2012) is such a crazy turn of events that if it were originally turned into a film and had ‘based on a true story’ slapped on its end credits, the audience would have collectively cried out ‘Bullshit!’.
It all began on the day Nicholas Barclay didn’t come home from playing basketball. The 13-year-old boy from San Antonio, Texas with blue eyes and blond hair was never seen again – fast-forward three years, and a 23-year-old Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, has turned himself into the police in Linares, Spain. However, he didn’t give them his name, simply a false age and a heartbreaking story. Originally, Bourdin claimed he was kidnapped and sexually abused with the hopes of being placed in a children’s home. However, as the police were not able to identify him and were becoming more suspicious, Bourdin turned his sights elsewhere. Knowing his lies could only last so much longer he moved onto his next deception – he began making random calls to several police stations throughout the United States about missing children.
Three years after the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, Spanish police called the Barclay family and stated that he was alive. Nicholas’ family was told he was kidnapped by military pedophiles and flown to Spain where, after three years of incredible torture, he finally escaped. Nicholas’ sister then flew out to Spain to identify her brother. Upon her arrival, Bourdin tried to alter his physical appearance, knowing that he was much older, had black hair, brown eyes and a thick French accent. Thinking his deception was no longer valid, he was shocked to find Nicholas’ sister actually believing him. Given that no family would take in a complete stranger from another country, Bourdin was given a US passport, a family, and a friendly atmosphere for the first time in his life. Naturally however, the FBI wants to hear more about these military pedophiles. How long can the lie continue?
Through interviews with the Barclay family you begin to believe that they were either immensely stupid or they were in such a state of denial that they actually believed it was Nicholas. To think that not only the Spanish police, the American Embassy, FBI, and the missing child’s own family all believed Bourdin was really Nicholas is a testament to Bourdin’s talents of deception. The aspect of the story that sold the FBI agent was how detailed his torture was and how scared emotionally he became. Leading the agent to believe this actually did happen to him at some point in Bourdin’s life. Yet, something still wasn’t right.
The story is told through a collection of interviews with the actual family members and Bourdin discussing the story. We are also introduced to the FBI agent who finally figured everything out. The ending doesn’t provide any concrete answers with exception to knowing that Bourdin lied and was a troubled soul. However, the documentary leaves you thinking about the intentions every person had in this absurd true story.
Was the family really that naïve? Or did they have a reason to bring Nicholas home? What do you think?