Ron Howard’s ‘The Missing’ (2003)

I just watched this film for the second time recently and I was reminded of how much I liked it. The film is beautiful, the acting is excellent and the story is very interesting. I do admit that the storytelling is very formulaic in a sense — estranged father and daughter grow closer, the less confident and bratty daughter learns strength and humility, the bad guy is defeated — but these characters are sympathetic and interesting, thanks to the actors, and the formulaic storytelling is accomplished rather subtly. Maggie and Jones don’t embrace fondly at the end of the movie and it isn’t dwelt on any longer than necessary that one of Maggie’s daughters was the product of a rape.

Regardless of being a little formulaic, the plot does offer an interesting feminist reading. In retaliation of having their identity stolen by white folks, these Indians are interested by stealing and molding the identity of these young women. The women are taken from their families, stripped of their clothes and given baggy men’s clothing to wear. They are being taught to forget all semblance they have of themselves: their lineage, everyday habits, position in society (as indicated by the brujo stuffing dirt in Lilly’s mouth), and even their conception of their gender. The Indians want to see them as things to be sold and want them to think of themselves as things. When they are preparing the women for sale, the captors choose their clothing (or rather underwear) and paint their faces, putting the final touches on the women’s new identity as probably whores to whomever buys them. After the women escape, they immediately wash the make-up from their faces as an initial step in reclaiming their identity.

My only criticism of the film is the length. Even though it is an entertaining 2+-hour film, it does feel a little long. Though I don’t have much of suggestion of how one might shorten it.