Missing (film)

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Publication.png Missing (film) 
Missing 1982 film.jpg
SubjectsChile/1973 coup d'état,  Nathaniel Davis
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Costa-Gavras movie based on the disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman, in the aftermath of the United States-backed Chilean coup of 1973.

Missing is a 1982 biographical drama film directed by Costa-Gavras from a screenplay written by Gavras and Donald E. Stewart, adapted from the book The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice (1978) by Thomas Hauser (later republished under the title Missing in 1982), based on the disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman, in the aftermath of the United States-backed Chilean coup of 1973, that deposed the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende.[1]

It stars Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Janice Rule and Charles Cioffi. Set largely during the days and weeks following Horman's disappearance, the film examines the relationship between Horman's wife Beth and his father Edmund and their subsequent quest to find Horman.

The film created significant controversy in Chile and was banned during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, even though neither Chile nor Pinochet is ever mentioned by name (although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are).[2]


Chile in the early 1970s: During the coup, the American author and idealist Charles Horman collects information about the unscrupulous machinations of the military government. The supporter of the anti-establishment movement returns with his friend Terry belatedly after a visit to Viña del Mar to his wife Beth in Santiago, where the two became aware of mass killings by the military and were surprised by the military coup. In Viña del Mar, Charlie and Terry met many US military officials, including Army Colonel Sean Patrick and a Marine engineer, who are believed to have been involved in the coup and briefed them on a search and punitive operation in the capital, Santiago.

Frightened by Charlie's late arrival, Beth asks her husband to get out of the country, which is under a state of emergency, as soon as possible. On the advice of a journalist, Charlie decides to leave the house with Beth and hide out in a hotel. While Beth is still visiting friends, Charlie and Terry, who will be leaving the country the next day, check into a hotel. Charlie says goodbye to Terry to catch up with Beth. However, Beth is unable to return home in time due to the nightly curfew. She spends the night on the street and returns to her home the next day. As Beth learns from an acquaintance, the house was vandalized by soldiers. Charlie has disappeared without a trace.

Charlie's father Ed Horman, a successful businessman from New York's Upper East Side and devoted to Christian Science, then travels to South America while his wife remains in the United States. In Santiago he meets his daughter-in-law Beth, who blames Ed for the disappearance of his only child. His son, whom he always regarded as a failure, is said to have been abducted by soldiers on the afternoon of September 16, according to neighbors who questioned him. During her first conversation with the US ambassador, Beth reacts harshly to the US government's attempts to help her father-in-law and her in their search for Charlie. A witness who happened to be following the truck in a taxi reported that Charles Horman was being taken to the national athletic stadium. While searching for his son, Ed, who initially suspects a secret affair behind his friendship with Terry, learns more about his son and his daughter-in-law. Both were "tired of seeing the world through the New York Times" and wanted to travel. Charlie and Beth traveled all over Latin America and finally ended up in Santiago. Ed's son worked on a children's cartoon, wrote screenplays and translated articles for what US diplomats said was a left-leaning newspaper.

Through a friend of Charlie's, David Holloway, Ed and Beth learn what happened at the National Stadium. Holloway, along with his friend Frank Teruggi, who was also friends with Charlie, had been kidnapped from their home by armed soldiers and taken to the sports stadium. While David was very scared and witnessed how Chilean soldiers undressed and executed the people there, Frank was optimistic and believed that as a US citizen he would soon be free again. When a soldier took him away, Frank joked that they would meet up in New York soon, but David never saw Frank again. According to the official statement by the military, Teruggi is said to have been picked up during the night curfew, taken to the stadium and later released. According to them, he should be safe and sound in the United States.

Ed and Beth go through all the hospitals and mental institutions with US Consul Phil Putnam, but there is no sign of a Charles Horman in any register. He learns more about his son from open Beth, including that he often impersonated the country and western singers for fun and was very interested in astronomy and that he regularly made notes of all his observations. The military eventually lead Beth and Ed to the athletic stadium, where they call for Charles over a microphone. Ed thinks he can see Charles in the crowd, but Beth makes it clear to him that he was wrong. While searching the various embassies in Santiago, they meet a former police officer from the ousted government in the Italian embassy, ​​who reports that Charlie was interrogated and tortured in the Defense Ministry in the presence of an American officer.

Later, in search of Charlie, Ed and Beth are led into the catacombs of the National Stadium, where they encounter a myriad of corpses. In a room where the unidentified bodies lie, Beth discovers the body of Frank Teruggi. Charlie's friend is said to have been found dead in the streets after being released. This contradicts the earlier official statement that Teruggi had left for the United States. The initially stubborn and patriotic Ed and the courageous Beth bond in the search for a son and husband. Ed learns from an employee of the Ford Foundation in Santiago that his son was allegedly executed a month earlier, three days after his arrest, at the National Stadium on September 19th. Ed desperately tries to find out the name of the contact, but this is not revealed by the employee. Shortly thereafter, Ed learns at the US Embassy that his son is said to have taken refuge in the north of the country. However, Ed does not believe the diplomats and mentions the possible involvement of the Americans in the military coup. His compatriots then revealed to the father that his son had been a snooper and if "You play with fire, you get burned.". When Ed returns to the hotel, he meets Beth, who is about to be taken away by two Chilean inspectors. After a call to the US Embassy, ​​Ed is allowed to accompany Beth to the interrogation. A little later, at the Ministry of Defense, Ed receives the message from the diplomats that his son has been identified beyond a doubt and has actually been executed in the national stadium.

As Ed becomes disillusioned with the American government, he comes to respect the work Beth and Charlie were doing and he and Beth reconcile. When they receive proof that Charlie was murdered by the junta and that the U.S. let it happen, he tells the embassy officials "I just thank God we live in a country where we can still put people like you in jail!"

Ed and Beth then leave Chile and fly to the United States. Ed Horman later files lawsuits against eleven government officials, including US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Charles Horman's body was only brought home seven months later, so that an autopsy that would have clarified the circumstances of death beyond doubt was no longer possible. Classified as state secrets, the files remained closed, so Charles Horman's father's lawsuit was dismissed. The costs and fees of the transfer were billed to the bereaved.

The film ends with a postscript stating that after his return to the United States, Ed received the body of his son Charlie seven months later, making an autopsy impossible, and that a subsequent lawsuit against the US government was dismissed. It also adds that the State Department denies its involvement in the Pinochet coup, a position maintained to the present day.


In 1983, a year after the film's theatrical release, both the film (then in the home video market) and Thomas Hauser's book The Execution of Charles Horman were removed from the United States market following a lawsuit filed against Costa-Gavras and Universal Pictures's (then) parent company MCA by former ambassador Nathaniel Davis and two others for libel.[3] A lawsuit against Hauser himself was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Davis and his associates lost their lawsuit, after which the film was re-released by Universal in 2006.[4]


Missing was theatrically released on February 12, 1982 to critical acclaim and modest commercial success, grossing $16 million on a $9.5 million budget. The film premiered at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival where it was jointly awarded the Palme d'Or, while Lemmon won the Best Actor prize. It received four nominations at the 55th Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actor (for Lemmon), Best Actress (for Spacek) and won Best Adapted Screenplay.


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