MISSING (1982)

Scene Analysis

Ed’s Emotional Plea

[1]     Missing, a film about the disappearance of Charles Horman, an American journalist, traces not only his personal story but follows the complex task his father and wife undertake to find his whereabouts.  The focus of the story throughout the film remains on Charlie, but the audience is perhaps more affected by the emotional roller coaster ride that the father, Ed Horman, is forced to endure.  When Ed first appears in this film, he is conservative, unsympathetic, and greatly annoyed by his son’s situation.  He blames Charlie for doing something stupid that would cause bodily harm.  “What stupid thing did Charles do to cause his arrest or make him go into hiding?” he asks Beth.  He even goes as far as to imply that Charlie’s disappearing act is merely a “stunt to publicize his forthcoming autobiography”  (0:35:37).

[2]     Ed Horman cooperates with the United States government, incredibly confident that its representatives are doing all they can to locate Charlie.  His complete trust and faith in the American officials leads to many confrontations with Beth, who is cynical and leery of their reassurances.  She knows not to believe their promises and refuses to give them the information they request that she deems unnecessary for them to know.  Their contrasting personalities and political viewpoints make for many confrontations, with Ed always defending the United States government, despite their lack of progress in the search.

[3]     A transformation in Ed, one of the main characters, becomes evident half way through the film (1:07:17).  Ed is called to the Ambassador’s office, for what he believes to be a meeting to give an update on the search for his son.  When he arrives, he is met with a serious looking Ambassador who wishes to discuss some “political questions” Mr. Horman had.  During a previous meeting with the U.S. Ambassador and his staff, Ed insinuates that the government funds some sort of police assistance program in Latin American countries.  The purpose of the meeting is not to discuss the Embassy’s progress but rather to refute that claim.  It is during this meeting that the unemotional Ed finally breaks down.  “I just want you to reach those people and tell them that I will take Charles back in any condition,” he says.  “I’m not gonna make a stink.  I’m not gonna go to the newspapers.  You make out any kind of a release form, I’ll sign it.  I will absolve anyone -- everyone of everything.  I just want my boy back.  He’s the only child I have, sir.”  Ed, the properly clothed, confident businessman becomes an emotional mess as he pleads with his country’s officials to find his son.

[4]     Up until that moment in the film, Ed does everything that he is asked by Phil Putnam, the U.S. Consul, and all of the Ambassador’s aides, believing that he had a partnership with those men.  Together, they would find Charles and life would return to normal.  He answered every question he was asked and gave them everything they asked for.  He fought with Beth when she refused to do the same and blamed her for their lack of success in finding Charles.  Every meeting he had with the consul ended optimistically, leaving Ed to believe he would one day see his son.  The U.S. government officials appeared to be giving Mr. Horman all that he desired, securing access to hospitals to search for Charlie and providing transportation.  Despite Beth’s words of caution, Ed still wholeheartedly believes he is working with the right people who are sincerely interested in locating his son.

[5]     Ed’s hopes are shattered, however, when he enters the office on this particular occasion.  Believing the sense of urgency in the air to come from some news related to Charlie, Ed is understandably nervous and curious as to the information.  When the Ambassador wishes to discuss a comment Ed had made in passing, Ed seemingly falls to pieces.  He begs, pleads for the return of his son.  He and Beth had hoped all along that they would find Charlie somewhere—hurt and traumatized undoubtedly, but nevertheless okay.  However, the difficulty of the search, coupled with the stress of not knowing his whereabouts, finally takes its toll on Ed.  He is beginning to quickly lose hope, as is evident in his emotional appeal.  He wants his son back, dead or alive.  The weeks and weeks of not knowing and false hopes and unfounded leads have just been too much for Ed to manage.  Early in the film, Ed scolds Beth for being emotional and orders her not to cry.  The audience finds Ed in an awkward moment where, fighting back tears, he asks for the return of his son.

[6]     The Ambassador and consul respond to Mr. Horman’s emotional speech with nothing more than cold, callous stares.  At that moment he is appealing not to their sense of duty and responsibility as government officials but to their human side, hoping to tap into the caring and sensitivity buried deeply within.  He tells them that Charles is “the only child” he has, still addressing them as “sir.”  His agony as a parent of a missing child is heart wrenching for the audience to watch but apparently easy for the officials to ignore.  His pathetic breakdown goes unheeded, much to his dismay, and Ed is finally informed by Beth that the meeting is over.

[7]     This particular scene is interesting not only because of the development of Ed Horman as a character in the film, but also what it quietly implies.  The Ambassador and Consul are portrayed as insensitive and misdirected, both being incredibly diplomatic and political and not in the least bit helpful.  They lure Mr. Horman into the office under the impression that the serious business they need to discuss with him is in regards to his son.  When Ed arrives, he is surprised to hear that what they really want to talk to him about is something that he had forgotten he even said.  The existence of the police assistance program that Ed suggests is a U.S.- funded operation is fervently denied.  The Ambassador states adamantly, with the portrait of Richard Nixon looming in the background directly over his shoulder, that “no such operation exists.”  Many people who have written reviews on Missing have made reference to this scene and other similar ones where the presence of Nixon is a minor detail, but very apparent.  The appearance of Nixon in the foreground as the Ambassador denies the existence of such an operation suggests that something covert is occurring.  It appears as if the Ambassador has been ordered from those higher up to relay this untruthful message.  It suggests also that the Ambassador and consul are mere puppets and the mastermind behind the killings and disappearances is back on American soil.

[8]     The audience is left very sympathetic towards Mr. Horman’s situation and feels terrible that he is suffering.  At the same time, the villains are undoubtedly the government officials who are portrayed as coldhearted bureaucrats, intent on covering up any wrongdoing.  Costa-Gavras is successful in leading the audience directly to where he believes its support should be—for Charles Horman’s family.  This scene seems to be his way of showing first the victimization of Charlie by the military coup and then the subsequent victimization of his family by the U.S. government officials, who pretend to help but really played a vital role in his disappearance.
 
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Terry Su, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of the U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in
electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access.  Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other
terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.