Of the many sins that directors have committed to film, paedophilia has to be one of the most shocking and simultaneously intriguing. Amazingly, the films I have seen with paedophilia as a major theme – Michael, both versions of Nabokov’s Lolita, Happiness, Hard Candy and now Trust – all have a very different take on this harrowing subject. Of this meagre selection of films, Trust takes its subject matter far more seriously and with a more heightened sense of realism than the other films. This is because director and Friends actor David Schwimmer, a member of the Rape Treatment Center, has based the film’s plot on the story of an individual he met there. Schwimmer’s experience in this area has allowed him to create a shockingly realistic story with full understanding of the emotions that each character feels.
In a suburb of Chicago, 14-year-old Annie (Liana Liberato) leads a perfectly normal life with her family: her British father Will (Clive Owen); her American mother Lynn (Catherine Keener); her older brother Peter (Spencer Curnutt), who is about to move to college; and her younger sister Katie (Aislinn Debutch). She receives a brand new laptop, and instantly enters a cyber friendship with a boy called Charlie who she meets in an online forum. Charlie is comforting and seems to understand Annie and her teenage problems much better than her friends do. She begins confiding in him, until he reveals that he is not actually her age, but is in college. She forgives him and continues to chat to him as usual. Not long after, he reveals that he is actually 25. She is upset that he has lied to her, but his smooth talking eventually calms her.
Just as Annie’s parents drive Peter off to college, Charlie requests to meet Annie at the mall. Excitedly she makes her way to the mall but is distraught when she sees her online friend for the first time. He’s not 25; he isn’t even 35. Charlie (Chris Henry Coffey) seems closer to forty than to thirty, but he manages to sweet talk the upset Annie by saying words like “When you connect in the way that we connected… I thought you were old enough to understand that.” At this point, every part of me was screaming at Annie to run as far away as possible from this creep, but confused and vulnerable, she decides to go along with him. Powerless, we watch as he brings her back to a nondescript motel room and continues to flirt with her. In a silent yet ominous move, Schwimmer shifts perspective from an imaginary camera to the camera that Charlie is using to film the entire event. Confused and unable to express her emotions, Annie simply submits.
The remaining two-thirds of the movie explore the aftermath of this terrible act, and the emotional wreckage it wreaks to all involved; all except the elusive Charlie of course. Annie manages to delude herself; she believes that she and Charlie are now girlfriend and boyfriend, even though such an act is illegal. She doesn’t even believe that she’s been raped. Annie’s mother is severely grief stricken and can be seen as doing the right thing by trying to comfort her daughter in any way possible. Her father is furious for many reason, principally that he knew nothing about it and that he is powerless to stop the man who has taken advantage of his daughter. Believing that the FBI aren’t effective enough, Will begins to join Internet forums posing as a teenage girl in an effort to entrap potential perverts. He fantasises about killing paedophiles.
Schwimmer certainly picked a talented cast, and I applaud the relative newcomer Liberato for just how well she played such a difficult part. Since Juno – let’s not forget that it was Ellen Page doing the torturing in Hard Candy – the amount of teenage girls in cinema that are confident, eloquent and unrealistically mature for their age has completely dominated the scene, to a point where insecurity seems like an irregularity. For this reason, I was awestruck at how Liberato played the vulnerable, ineloquent and simply more realistic Annie. At times, her acting was so realistic that I felt like I was watching a documentary rather than a piece of fiction. Before seeing this film, I would have had no idea what a young girl would do put in Annie’s situation in the mall; after all, the sensible thing to do would have just been to run as far away as possible. Nevertheless, her whimpering reaction seems completely natural, and there’s the stroke of acting genius. Liberato was just 14 herself at the time of filming, which makes her performance that much more impressive.
The execution is simply perfect. The story doesn’t need exaggeration or clever emotional charging, nor does any part of it need to feel contrived. By simply running its course without artificial treatment, it deals a huge blow to its audience. By the end of the film I had been reduced to a blubbering wreck; that’s when you know it’s a good movie! Incredibly, Schwimmer managed to incorporate a scene which I actually found darkly humorous. Will is sitting at his desk and his boss walks in, asking why he’s been so distracted in his work recently. Will eventually replies with the truth that Annie was sexually assaulted. His boss is immediately apologetic and asks about the incident, and whether Annie was kidnapped. When Will states that Annie in fact knew the man before the incident, the boss exhales “Phew, you scared the shit out of me… I was picturing… you don’t want to know what I was picturing. Could have been much worse.” Will’s glowering face is absolutely priceless, but Schwimmer chooses to end the scene there. Another scene that particularly moved me was the moment of realisation when Annie finally starts to realise the extent of the damage that has been done to her. It’s when the FBI agent shows her a set of photographs of girls who have been raped by the same man, and she realises she is just like them. She cycles directly to her therapist, even though it’s after hours, and she lets out tears and revelations “He lied to me like he lied to those other girls… He lied to me so he could have sex with me,” and then gingerly, as if she still doesn’t fully understand what she’s saying “He raped me.” The denial is lifted and all that is left is intense sadness.
For my money, this might just be the most moving film I’ve ever seen. Schwimmer’s exploration of the damage done by such a traumatic event speaks so much more than the countless episodes of To Catch a Predator ever will. I’m incredibly grateful that it is not a taboo in society to make a film about paedophilia, as I think this is an important film that parents of Internet-savvy children need to see. It might be worth making sure those children see it too, in spite of its 15 rating. If you don’t mind a good cry, then I recommend this brilliant and noble psychological drama.