Girl In The Picture

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The picture that filmmaker Skye Borgman draws in her true crime documentary Girl In The Picture (2022) is one of a misogynist system that utterly fails to protect women. Social Services, the criminal justice system, and America’s puritanical morality are all shown to be complicit in allowing the series of circumstances to occur that led to a young girl’s kidnapping and decades of sexual abuse. Borgman’s film is disturbing not just because of all the horrific details but because it reminds viewers that the social and political systems that failed in the seventies, eighties and nineties are the same systems in place today.

Borgman unravels this mystery non-linearly; charting the past as the case moves forward and investigators of a murder committed in 1990 uncover new details. The twists and disturbing facts that are revealed are never difficult to follow due to Borgman’s concise editing choices which, for the first two acts, privilege the facts over the emotional content of witness testimony. With each revelation, moving either forward or looking backward in time, Borgman expands the tapestry of the narrative.

A documentary about a little girl who is abducted and sexually abused by a paternal figure who then eventually marries her, murders her, and kills her child could easily be a portrait of victimization. While Girl In The Picture is certainly about being a victim, Borgman is careful not to present her subject as anything less than a strong survivor. For Borgman the case she is documenting is more of an exposé on how society fails women and to what lengths these women go to in order to survive. Girl In The Picture is a film of stark juxtapositions between the vile, predatory depravity of a sociopath on the one hand and the intelligent, compassionate and strong willed young woman on the other.

As far as Netflix’s patented true crime documentaries go Girl In The Picture is uniquely intimate. Not only does Borgman keep reiterating that at the heart of these crimes is a young girl, but she invites the viewer into the lives, if only for a glimpse, of those many people who felt the reverberations of that first abduction back in the early seventies. Borgman is careful to respect the fact that the case she is dealing with has a very real, very potent legacy populated by individuals touched by the case who have had to survive grief, guilt, or betrayal.

Girl In The Picture isn’t going to revolutionize its genre or its medium. It’s a film that, in addressing a case from 1990, finds an agency in the political environment of 2022. As the laws of the land shift drastically towards misogyny Borgman reminds her audience that women have and will always be great survivors. Girl In The Picture ends almost triumphantly as people celebrate the impact of a life cut short. There is a palpable sense of hope in displays of love, endurance, and compassion.