“Missing,” the powerful Costa Gavras film about Chile, is marking its 40th anniversary this year. It’s one of the best films ever made, in my opinion, and I thought it’s a good opportunity to reflect on its impact on me and my generation.
When “Missing” came out in 1982, Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, and his Philippine counterpart, Ferdinand Marcos, were at the height of their power. They shared key things in common. They were both staunch allies of the U.S. which supported their regimes. They both staged a power grab in September.
Marcos’ martial law regime became official on September 21, 1972. A year later, Pinochet staged a coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 — which was also the Philippine dictator’s 55th birthday.
“Missing” is about the disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman who was among the thousands picked up by the Chilean military when Pinochet grabbed power. The film follows his dad, Ed Horman, and his wife Beth, as they try to find out what happened to him.
It wasn’t easy. Chile had just plunged into a time of fear and death under Pinochet. It is now widely known that the U.S. had a hand in the coup. Ed and Beth Horman had to grapple with U.S. embassy officials in Chile who weren’t really interested in helping them uncover the truth — that Charles Hormanwas executed by the Chilean military and US officials knew about it but didn’t tell them.
It is interesting how the way this film affects me has changed.
When it first came out in ‘82, I was 18. Marcos was at the height of his power. U.S. President Ronald Reagan welcomed him to Washington in a high-profile state visit. His vice president, George H.W. Bush, praised his “adherence to democratic principles,” oblivious to the killings and the brazen abuse of power and corruption.
I found myself identifying with Charles Horman, played by John Shea, Beth, played by Sissy Spacek, and the other young people who were opposed to the Pinochet dictatorship.
Marcos was overthrown in 1986, while Pinochet stepped down in 1990 though he had himself declared senator for life. But he was arrested in London in 1998 in connection with multiple cases of human rights violations. He was put under house arrest and died in 2006.
I watched “Missing” again recently. This time I found myself identifying more with the dad, Jack Lemmon, who was simply outstanding in this film.
The scene where he finds out his son is dead is heartbreaking. And so is the scene where he and Sissy Spacek collect Charles Horman’s drawings and writings as they prepare to leave Chile.
I watched the movie again as the situation in the Philippines has become less uncertain. Marcos’ son, who has defended his father’s reign of brutality and greed, wants to be president.
That would be a tragic setback for the country if that happens. Leni Robredo represents the change the country needs to keep the forces of greed and tyranny from returning.
Meanwhile, things have improved in Chile. The country just elected a new president, Gabriel Borich, a former student activist who just named progressives and mostly women to his cabinet.
It’s an inspiring turn for a country which was once ravaged by dictatorship.
“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” Boric said after his victory in December. “We know there continues to be justice for the rich, and justice for the poor, and we no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality.”