Catfished Emotions: Thoughts on The Imposter

Odds are you’ve probably heard someone use the term “catfishing” recently. For those of you still wondering how it’s possible for someone to catch fish with a computer, let me provide a working definition.

Catfishing: The act of luring someone into an online relationship by fabricating your true identity. This is usually done through social media sites like Facebook or Twitter (I would say Myspace, but nobody takes anyone seriously on Myspace).

The term was made popular by the independent film and subsequent MTV television show Catfish. It also didn’t help that Heisman trophy finalist Manti Te’o was publicly humiliated by becoming a victim of a fake online relationship. Jokes cropped up right and left. I even got in on the action via Twitter:

@WadeHance: Okay everyone, enough of the jokes about Manti Te’o’s girlfriend. She’s not here to defend herself.

So I’m not proud of that one. But when something like that comes to you, it’s hard not to resist.

The fascinating thing about catfishing is the mental dynamics of both parties involved. Why would someone purposely mislead another human being? Why would that subsequent human being ignore the obvious signs right in front of them? These questions take on a whole new meaning in the film The Impostor.

When I rented The Imposter, I didn’t realize that I was picking up a documentary. I guess I was the one who’d been catfished now. I’m a big lover of documentaries, but sometimes it’s hard to get in the right frame of mind when a movie you inserted into the VHS player isn’t what you were expecting. That is, unless The Avengers turned out to be a documentary; then that would be pretty awesome. Even against these odds, The Imposter did not disappoint. By the end of the movie, I realized that I just watched one of the best documentaries to come around in recent years.

The Imposter tells the true story of Nicolas Barclay, a San Antonio thirteen year old who disappeared on June 13, 1994. His family was unsurprisingly heartbroken, but resilient in their search for the young child. Then a breakthrough. Three years later, Nicolas is found. Not in Texas though. Not even in America. He’s found in Spain. Yes, the nation of Spain.

What Nicolas’ family doesn’t know, is that the person they think is their long-lost son/brother is really a Frenchman named Frédéric Bourdi. They are the product of an elaborate scam. They have been catfished in the most spectacular way.

Director Bart Layton tells this intriguing story largely through recreated flashbacks as well as interviews from Nicolas’ family members, involved government officials, and Bourdi himself. The Imposter holds the attention of its audience through a truly fascinating and unique story. If this were a Leonardo Dicaprio film, I would have passed the tale off as impossible. That’s the beauty of The Imposter though. It isn’t.

How is it even possible for a twenty-something, brown-eyed Frenchman to convince scores of people that he is a sixteen year old, blue-eyed Texas teenager? With this question in mind, The Imposter takes on themes dealing with identity, human nature, grief, and deception. The film explores the boundaries that push the human brain to believe something against all logic and reason. The elevation of emotion over mind can sometimes have deadly consequences, reverberating across generations of people. The depths of the human heart often finds more solace in believing a lie rather than facing the reality of despair.

We understand this quality all too well, especially considering the recent tragedies our nation has experienced. The internet is full of Sandy Hook conspiracies, arguing that the recent school shooting never actually happened. No children were killed. No teachers murdered. I think the reason these rumors are so prevalent is because sometimes humans would rather live in denial than face the harshness of truth.

The human mind is composed of built-in mechanisms that clamber for comfort in the midst of tragedy. The Imposter highlights the struggle between false hope and authenticity. I guess this is why the study of philosophy is so important to our success as individuals. The ability to understand the age-old questions surrounding logic and reason can be indispensable tools to our arsenal.

In the end, we walk a tight rope between hope and logic. In one sense we must be stringent with ideas and facts, while at the same time realizing hope is the bedrock of our existence. When we view optimism through the grid of knowledge, we come out with something more beautiful. We walk away with a worldview that understands the reality of hurt and pain, but also recognizes that the future is not dead. Faith is still alive and kicking. We just have to discover it, even in the midst of our pain. We can’t let blind belief catfish us. Instead, we must allow the divine fusion of hope based firmly in reason and knowledge to enlighten and enrich our experiences.

The Imposter is a fascinating documentary that plays like a thriller. Viewers will be satisfied with its edge-of-your seat intensity and probing philosophical themes. The film is now available on DVD and BluRay. It is rated R for language.

Wade Bearden

Astronaut. Surgeon. A-List Celebrity. Liar. Wade Bearden is a student ministries pastor from the Houston area. In addition to his ministerial duties he writes, teaches, produces videos, and performs comedy on the side. Wade likes short walks on the beach because long walks make him tired and sweaty


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