Absent: Movie Review – A Documentary About Fatherlessness From a Director Who Misses the Point

This movie sucksThis documentary about absent fathers by young filmmaker Justin Hunt groans under the weight of post hoc statistics and does little more to show that some people who grew up fatherless and made bad decisions while at the same time reminding us that Metallica is cool.

The movie begins with the “powerful imagery” of a little girl, played by insert name’s daughter, attempting to learn how to ride a bicycle all by herself. She straps on her helmet, gets on the bike, and falls repeatedly, and eventually gets injured, cries, and gives up. If only she had her father there to teach her how.

The question I am left with is this: Where is her mother?

It’s a question that came to my mind again and again as the movie dragged on and leapt from one broad generalization to another.

The message is that children need their fathers. Being a father myself, I whole heartedly understand that point. Being fatherless myself, this movie doesn’t speak to me at all.

The Bottom of Society

Hunt and his team interview gangsters and prostitutes who they politely pay them for their time. When asked if having a loving father would have made a difference, one such streetwalker who hooks for drug money said that it would enable her to be able to take care of her own kids.

But would it really? Or would she have made a lot of the same decisions? The film fails to explore other relevant factors, such as poverty, a family history of substance abuse, and the behaviors of the mother, except for one.

One of the stories that Absent follows is that of professional boxer and junkie Johnny Tapia. Tapia has a son of his own, who he himself has been forced to abandon during his several stays in prison. Not because Tapia grew up without a father, but because he decided to get screwed up and piss his success away on drugs. Heard that story before? So have I.

Somewhere in the mix of pregnant teenagers, sex workers, and dope doers is a message about the demasculinization of America, which I suppose is to suggest that women can’t be successful at raising boys to become “men.” Although, as the film even points out, most of the stoic men that are so iconic in society were mostly raised by their mothers while their fathers worked.

Looking for Love

Several of the women interviewed had been molested. The first thing that any psychologist will tell you is that someone who is sexually abused as a child will have issues later in life. Many of them, as portrayed in Absent, will seek out sexual partners at a young age. However, that’s not necessarily because they didn’t have a father, it’s because they were abused.

At one point, Hunt interviews a fatherless daughter of a fatherless mother who got married too young. As if the seed had already been planted in her head, the seventeen year old young girl enthusiastically says she might not have had as many as seven sexual partners if she had a father to tell her not to.

Take Our Poll: Is growing up without a father an excuse to do drugs, be a prostitute, or take up a life of crime?

You know what I’m thinking, right? Of course you do. Where’s the mother? How many sexual partners did she watch her mother go through her entire life? I don’t know, and the movie doesn’t say. I’d be willing to wager that it’s quite a lot. Concluding that her promiscuous behavior is the result of not having constant contact with her dad is a post hoc conclusion.

If anything, children who are raised in either one or two parent households who do not observe their parents having healthy relationships will desire to go out and find that kind of love. Unfortunately, the only guide those children have is television, movies, music, and other media which portrays and idolized relationship that doesn’t exist. But they want it, and make mistakes trying to find it. Like getting married or having kids at too young of an age.

Enter Sandman

And suddenly the film turns to legendary rocker and Metallica’s front man, singer, and songwriter James Hetfield. This is the best part of the movie. Really, it’s the only good part.

He talks about his childhood, the awful religion of Christian Science that was forced on him, his father leaving, the death of his mom, his reunion with his father, the death of Cliff Burton, his father’s death, and how he’s going to be great in the role of Grandpa Het (and I believe him).

James even reads some of his lyrics, including an excerpt from “The God That Failed.” (It’s actually strange to hear him speak the words that he normally delivers with such forceful passion when onstage.) Recycled footage from VH1’s Behind the Music and some Metallica clips are thrown in just for fun.

Of course James talks about how he overcame it all to be a great dad. But really, is Hetfield, a man who is loved and adored by millions of fans worldwide, the other example Hunt could find of a man who can win at life after his dad left?

Hunting for Meaning

After the screening concluded, I asked Hunt if being fatherless is an excuse to have kids at fourteen, take heroine, and all of the other things he highlighted in his movie. With a look on his face like he had never considered the possibility that Absent comes off that way, he said he was merely trying to show “some” examples of what “could” happen when a father is absent in a child’s life.

Where are the examples of the vast majority of us who grew up without a father and turned out to be just fine?

I became fatherless at age 13 when my dad took a gun, put the barrel to his left temple, and pulled the trigger. Yeah, that sucked. It hurt for a long time, and I struggled; emotionally, and in school.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful mother who made sure I still had a good moral upbringing, taught me the value of women, of hard work, of money, and of an education. She once worked three jobs to make sure my younger sister and I had Christmas one year. She pushed be to be the one thing that every parent wants for their kids; to do better in life then they had done.

Because of her, I am the man I am today. Because of her I am the father I am today. Can a woman raise a boy into a man? You bet your ass she can. And if you disagree then you need to rethink your definition of what a “man” really is.

Yeah, it hurt for a long time after my father died, but you know what? Eventually I found my answers, and I got over it. I grew up. I became a man.

Absent begins and ends with saying that the first person in your life who can accept or reject you is your father. Wrong again. It’s your mom.

Next time Justin Hunt, who isn’t fatherless, wants to do a movie about growing up without a dad, he should put those of us on camera who didn’t turn to drugs or booze or sex to feel good about ourselves. He should point his camera to shining examples of how families overcome hardship and achieve success. That’s what America is all about.

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