‘Missing’ Characters & Themes, Explained: The Contentification Of Trauma, Abusive Relationships, & More


Will Merrick and Nick Johnson’s film, “Missing” follows June Allen (Storm Reid), an 18-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Grace Allen (Nia Long). June’s father, James (Tim Griffin), apparently died of cancer when June was just a child. All these years later, Grace has found love again with Kevin (Ken Leung) and has planned to go on a vacation in Colombia with him. June is tasked with picking her up at the airport after a week, but when she gets there, both her mother and Kevin are nowhere to be found. That begins an investigation into her disappearance, which unearths a series of surprising and spine-chilling revelations. “Missing” is a sequel to “Searching” and “Run,” with all three of them being developed by Ohanian and Chaganty. However, apart from background details and Easter eggs, they don’t have any such narrative connections. That said, just like “Searching” and “Run,” “Missing” has a lot to say about content, relationships, and more. So, let’s talk about them.

Major Spoilers Ahead

The Film Shows That Trauma Can Be Turned Into Content

The movie begins with a Netflix adaptation of the events of “Searching,” thereby critiquing the hundreds of “true crime dramas” or “true crime documentaries” that are consumed by the public on a daily basis. Things come full circle when June and Grace’s journey in “Missing” is also turned into a Netflix show under the title “Unfiction.” Recently, this particular kind of shows and movies have been getting a lot of flak because the survivors of those “true stories” are being forced to relive their trauma and go through the same media cycle that they did during the investigation. Earlier, there used to be a significant amount of time between an incident and its cinematic or TV show adaptation. That time allowed the victims and their families to process and absorb what transpired and maybe even move on by the time someone decided to turn that incident into a movie or a show. Now, that gap has reduced, and we’re seeing producers bid on stories as they unfold in real-time so that they can make millions of dollars out of it. In addition to that, “Missing” shows how Tik-Tok influencers, Instagram pundits, Facebook geniuses, Twitter experts, and the worst of the worst, podcasters, can turn a person’s search for her mother into a topic of daily discussion without even considering the harm they’re causing to the people who are at the center of the storm. Countless films on this very topic have been made, but I don’t think the aforementioned viruses of the internet are even close to reflecting on the nature of their “job,” while those who view such “content” continue to lose their ability to differentiate between fact and fiction.

It Sheds Light On Unemployment And Exploitation

James orchestrates an intricate and overcomplicated story to make it look like Kevin and Grace have been abducted in Colombia. But we find out that Grace has been abducted by James and imprisoned in the family’s old home, while Rachel (Lauren B. Mosley) has been forced to stand in for Grace. Now, this revelation purposefully distracts us from the fact that Rachel isn’t Kevin’s or James’ co-conspirator, and the abductors aren’t really abductors. They are actually actors. Rachels says she did what she did because she was under the impression that she was going to be in a lifestyle documentary of sorts, while the “abductors” thought that was their big acting break (and they didn’t even get paid fully). This shows the rising state of unemployment and how it’s causing people to make desperate, and hence, dumb decisions. The lack of a camera crew following them everywhere should’ve set off both Rachel and the “abductors” that they are being duped. But it’s natural to be swept away by the hint of an opportunity to get into the entertainment business, thereby allowing exploitative people like James to get away after doing something clearly criminal. Talking about exploitation, Javier deserves to get way more than what June pays him. However, since his judgment about whether he’s being exploited is clouded by his nice nature and his parental instincts, he keeps working for June. Also, a guy his age shouldn’t be sweating to death as a freelancer, and that says everything there is to be told about the state of employment in Colombia.

It Shows The Pros And Cons Of Technology.

Much like “Searching” or even “Run,” “Missing” highlights how interconnected everything is due to the existence of the internet and the various apps and social media. Your phone, laptop, desktop, and even your watch are connected to each other. You can upload pictures, videos, “live pictures,” etc., from any corner of the world that has proper connectivity. You can have a digital footprint so that you can remember where you’ve been, and so can your loved ones. But as shown in the movie, if all this is accessed by a person who doesn’t have the best intentions in mind, then things can go wrong. One of the many twists shows that June’s screen, which is our primary source of information about the plot, is actually being monitored by James, thanks to an app that allows the user to snoop on anyone. We see that, in this day and age, there’s too much information out there. However, people like James can use this excessive information to create a web of lies and hide in plain sight without any such repercussions. Privacy is pretty much a lie because people with the right kind of encryption can be anonymous, while the rest of us are vulnerable to threats, which can be physical or virtual in nature. If we aren’t educated enough to navigate the ever-evolving cyberspace, we can find ourselves in very deep water.

The Film Observes An Abusive Father And A Loving Mother Through A Pair Of Gen Z Eyes.

Throughout the film, we see June explicitly missing her father and being annoyed by her mother—well, until Grace goes missing and James shows up. Then those sentiments get flipped on their heads. But in that process, June realizes that she wasn’t cherishing having her caring mother by her side, as she was busy imagining what her life would’ve been like if her father had been around. She eventually realizes, though, that if her mother hadn’t taken her away from James, changed her identity, and started a new life, she probably would’ve been in the most horrible condition imaginable. Yes, you can say that James “loves” his daughter and his wife. However, I will disagree that he loves his drugs more than his family because he isn’t ashamed of bleeding from his nose right in front of his daughter after doing cocaine. Yes, you can say that Grace goes to the same extremes that James does in order to reunite with June. I will disagree again and say that Grace’s methods are for protection, while James’ methods lead to death and abuse. At the end of the day, though, it teaches people who have been born into privilege to not take it for granted, even for a single second, because the effort that it has taken to get there is mind-boggling.

Final thoughts on ‘Missing’

The one thing about “Missing” that’s going to stick with me for quite a while is how a massive chunk of the “content” we consume is essentially “copaganda” (propaganda that glorifies cops). “Searching” worked against this trend by showing a cop as the main villain. “Missing” does the same by showing a Netflix series that shows the police in a very fashionable light. Throughout the course of the film, we see June doing the heavy lifting while the police partake in press conferences. The highlight of June and Grace’s traumatic journey is that, despite their limited resources, they manage to kill their abuser and call for help. Yet, in the show, we see the cops coming in style and posing as the “saviors.” And I hope that more and more people see that. The police are an arm of the government and, hence, an enabler of systemic injustice. They should be de-glorified in every kind of media until they earn the right to be glorified again. With all that said, “Missing” is a great film. I don’t know if it’s correct to compare with “Searching” because “Missing” has an almost Abbas-Mustan-esque tone. The visual storytelling is on point, and Storm Reid is truly magnificent in the film, while Joaquim de Almeida (surprisingly not playing a villain for a change) delivers a sweet supporting act. So go and watch “Missing.” If you are in the mood for more, watch “Searching” and “Run.”

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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