Film review: Buried (2022)
5 / 5 ( 1 vote )
Written by Lizette
This exploration of recovered memories sometimes buries its difficult questions a little too deep.
There was a time, back in the 1990s, when it seemed like you couldn’t turn on a chat show or read a newspaper report without coming across someone – including celebrities such as Roseanne Barr and Janet Jackson – talking about their repressed memories. Buried, the four-part documentary by Yotam Guendelman and Ari Pines – who previously made the Netflix true crime series Shadow of Truth – looks at the case that kickstarted the public’s consciousness of the subject, and led to the “Memory Wars”, a decades-long debate between clinicians and psychologists about the scientific reliability of recovered memories.
In 1969, 8-year-old Susan Nason went missing after returning a pair of borrowed shoes to a classmate who lived in her neighbourhood in Foster City, California. Ten weeks later, her body was found near a reservoir, about 15 miles from her home. With nothing to go on, the case petered out, and the murder was unsolved. Until 20 years later, when Eileen Franklin-Lipsker, Susan’s childhood best friend, came forward to tell police that she had witnessed the killing – and that her own father, George Franklin, was the perpetrator. She had, she said, repressed this memory for decades until one day, watching her daughter play, she was suddenly struck by the recollection of her father crushing Susan’s skull with a rock. Police were supportive, and the case went to trial.
The documentary starts with the initial phone call Eileen’s husband made to the police, to report her allegations. What follows is the court case, which relies on archive footage and contemporaneous voice audio recordings, as well as fragmented recreations, to tell the story of Eileen and her family – none of whom were interviewed for this documentary, for reasons which will later become clear. Instead, the prosecutors, defenders, police, psychologists, film producers, writers and journalists go over the events, almost as though no time has passed at all.
The first two episodes detail the trial, with the directors withholding information in order to wrongfoot the viewer.
Initially dealing with the case for the prosecution, Eileen is presented as a wholly credible witness, knowing details about the murder that only someone who had witnessed it could possibly know. That is, of course, blown away by George Franklin’s defence team in the second episode, which treats Eileen as an unreliable narrator, and looks at the holes in her story. So far, so black and white. But the final two episodes take on both the Memory Wars and the kind of abuse that results in the victims repressing their memories as a survival technique.
Although legally the case seemed doomed from the start – based, as it was, on one person’s uncorroborated testimony of an event that happened two decades earlier – its impact was startling. It opened up discussion about child abuse, and ultimately changed the way such offences could be dealt with by the courts.
Previously, there had been a statute of limitation of just three years in reporting a crime – which meant that had someone been abused as a child, they had little legal recourse as an adult. After the Franklin case, however, the statute was extended, which led to a huge increase in abusers being brought to justice.
It is a shame that Eileen seems through much of the series to be put on trial again – and not just through the documentation of the courtroom proceedings. The publicity she received, including a TV movie starring Shelley Long and a book about her experiences, on top of the seemingly never-ending talk show circuit, caused friction within her family, as well as being frowned upon by some sections of society. While various interviews included in the series seem to suggest that she was somehow in it for the fame, it is also clear that the fallout within the family was rooted something far darker. Without the personal testimony which is necessary to fully explore the deep-seated familial dysfunction, some of the interviewees’ swipes at Eileen come off as rather glib. What does not seem to be at issue is that George Franklin was an abuser, and that his family bore the brunt of his violations. The impact this had on his children was lifelong.
Sadly, much of this must necessarily be read between the lines, with some of the interviews actively getting in the way of a more meaningful, in-depth exploration of such sensitive issues. Ultimately, it’s a tragic tale of not only a murdered child, but also of the larger, ongoing issue of the kinds of abuse which takes place behind closed doors, rather than on the sofas of prime time talk shows. And while the series looks at ways in which memory is processed, it buries the deeper, more uncomfortable questions – of the ways in which child sex abuse victims can process their trauma – underneath a layer of melodrama.