The Imposter and the Mother between Grief and Guilt

The Imposter elicits amazement at the story and praise at the way the director tells the story.

At the heart of this dramatised documentary  is the incredible fact that a mother and sister are fooled into accepting a serial imposter as their disappeared son and brother.

Like the majority of reviewers and friends I was enthralled by the film. As I was watching however a question  occurred to me was : How is it that the mother, Beverly, is so detached, impassive and uninvolved throughout the telling of the story? then we learn that she  was a heroin addict and I took it for granted that being drugged was the reason for this passive presence in the narrative.

As the film remained in my consciousness for a few days I started to wonder about this mother/grandmother. How does she appear? what is the result of the cinematic devices and what is the real woman like? There is a mark contrast of representation between the sister  – Carey – and the mother. The interviews and reenactment of scenes with the sister permits us to perceive Carey’s personality. This is not the case of the mother, Beverly.   As I could not analyse the film, (DVD not available yet) I searched the reviewers ‘s responses. As usual they were subjective but some were inaccurate like the following:

Robbie Collin  (telegraph Sept 20th) Incredibly, Bourdin’s story conned not only police and immigration officials from both Europe and the United States but also Nicholas’s own mother, who welcomed her son home with open arms. How could a mother make that mistake? Well, perhaps the question is not “how could” but “why would”, and The Imposter will leave you asking both.

In the actual home video footage  of his arrival, Bourdin is certainly not seen welcomed by his mother with open arms. On the contrary Beverly looked rather remote and lost. Also Beverly did not welcome him into her house but Bourdin lived with  Carey.               

It is not my intention to discuss the film or comment on the mystery of the disappearance. I just find the position of the mother between Grief and Guilt extremely interesting .  The following are two reactions to the interviews of Beverly.

Josh Spiegel   (  Aug 17th) There’s Nicholas’ mother, Beverly, who doesn’t say much; the grief etched in her face speaks volumes.”

From the users reviews ( imdb   4 September 2012  by Dharmendra Singh Birmingham, England)  “I admit that a cold chill ran down my spine every time Nicholas’s mother is interviewed. The black t-shirt she wears with a blank expression, denying her guilt with verbose but carefully delivered sentences, does cause the question to hang.

In general if the reviewers say anything about Beverly, apart from her surprising acceptance of Bourdin, they mention that she was a drug addict. I needed to know more about this grandmother and looked at the 2008 New Yorker article about Bourdin by David Grann for more information.  He says:

she worked the graveyard shift at a Dunkin’ Donuts in San Antonio seven nights a week. She had never married Nicholas’s father and had raised Nicholas with her two older children, Carey and Jason. (She was divorced from Carey and Jason’s father, though she still used her married name, Dollarhide.) A heroin addict, she had struggled during Nicholas’s youth to get off drugs. After he disappeared, she had begun to use heroin again and was now addicted to methadone. Despite these difficulties, Carey says, Beverly was not a bad mother: “She was maybe the most functioning drug addict. We had nice things, a nice place, never went without food.” Perhaps compensating for the instability in her life, Beverly fanatically followed a routine: working at the doughnut shop from 10 P.M. to 5 A.M., then stopping at the Make My Day Lounge to shoot pool and have a few beers, before going home to sleep. She had a hardness about her, with a cigarette-roughened voice, but people who know her also spoke to me of her kindness. After her night shift, she delivered any leftover doughnuts to a homeless shelter….

Since the loss of her sons, Beverly has stopped using drugs and moved out to Spring Branch, where she lives in a trailer, helping a woman care for her severely handicapped daughter.

“My heart went out for him, but not like a mother’s would. The kid’s a mess and it’s sad, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

 Bourdin’s life is commented on widely on the net and he speaks for himself on You Tube and the press.  He has suggested that Beverley knew what happened to her disappeared son and the film leaves the question open. I wanted to explore what is known of  Beverly,  grandmother, mother of three children. At the time of film’s  interviews Beverly had lost two sons. Whether she has secret knowledge or not cannot be determined.  Neither can we know what her life,  her feelings,  were like at the time of the disappearance.

I see in Beverly  the embodiment of the silent grief and guilt that I suspect is present  in many family tragedies.

As usual I feel that the film, the old woman as receptacle of family secret, guilt and grief deserve more than this superficial blog. My  intention is simply to record the views of an older woman. (I have become a great-grandmother yesterday and I insist on being heard)

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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