'Erased': A Father's Past is Inescapable, or Is It?

Renée Scolaro Mora

Although Erased doesn't portray it particularly well, the question it raises is an intriguing one: who controls anyone's life narrative?


Director: Philipp Stölzl
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Liana Liberato, Olga Kurylenko, Garrick Hagon
Rated: R
Studio: Radius-TWC
Year: 2012
US date: 2013-05-17 (Limited release)
UK date: 2013-04-05 (Limited release)

Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) is a great dad. Or, he wants to be. So, he puts on the part as he gets ready for work in the opening scenes of Erased, much like he does his office attire. And, just as the gruesome scars on his back appear to make his crisply pressed suit uncomfortable, so his snarky teenaged daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) points out that his role as father is also uncomfortable, and rarely worn. Amy has moved to Antwerp to live with Ben because her mother has died. Though he makes father-appropriate speeches about report cards and why it's his business to be in her business, he doesn't do things "the way Mom did" or know about her allergies or that she likes to be kissed goodbye before she leaves for school.

If this plotline sounds facile, it is infinitely more complex than the purported espionage mystery that drives the action of the film. Ben works as an engineer for a subsidiary of a company called the Halgate Group, "reviewing security devices for flaws." In other words, he's a highly paid lock-pick, breaking into the company's security in order to fix it. His solutions include such technological breakthroughs as holding a Blackberry up to a retina scanner and flashing a montage of 50 unique irises until it opens. Unsuspecting when asked to email his nervously twitching boss Derek Kolher (Neil Napier) the iris montage, Ben complies, only to find when he returns to the office the next day that there is no office, no staff, no equipment, no phones, no record the company ever existed. There is no money in his bank account, nor any record of any paycheck having ever been deposited.

It isn't long before ben and Amy are taken hostage at gunpoint and she sees a side to her father that defies what little she knows about him. Predictably, his going all Jason Bourne on their captor evokes more horror than gratitude. And yet, however repelled or confused she might be that he can kill a man with his bare hands, she knows he's right when he says, "The safest place for you to be right now is at my side, listening to what I tell you" -- this while pouring vodka into a bullet hole in her arm. As Erased's project, to bring them together, when Ben responds to her wincing with "Hold on to me," she does, physically and emotionally, for a while at least.

At this point we know something that Amy doesn't, that Ben, of course, isn't just some techno-geek engineer, but a former CIA Black Ops agent who was "decommissioned for growing a conscience," left to languish in Antwerp and unable to return to his family. As we're reassured that he's not a bad father, but only constrained by circumstance. Still, his renewed spy life never turns interesting here. The film fully spells out the crime Ben is trying to uncover 44 minutes in, leaving us to watch him flounder around for another hour figuring out what we already know. The Halgate Group is a greedy corporate monster with government connections and something to hide. And oh yes, its name brings "Halliburton" and "hell" together: we get it. Add to this such clichés as Ben asking a CIA agent, "When did you become everything we fought against?" and the response, "It's just business," and we can't wait to get back to the father and daughter storyline, however predetermined it might be.

Although Erased doesn't portray it particularly well, the question it raises is an intriguing one: who controls anyone's life narrative? The film makes the obvious case that identity is currency, available to be exchanged and altered, easily accessed or obliterated in a digital age.

But there are other issues of personal history and intent to consider. When Ben revises or erases his past for his young daughter to protect her emotionally, is that fair or ethical? Presumably, the CIA erased Ben as an operative because he refused to obey orders, effectively rewriting his background (for those that didn't know him) and his future, both as punishment and to protect civilians from the dangers of a "rogue" agent. But what happens when Halgate attempts to silence Ben, forcing him to rewrite his history with Amy again? Is his "true" nature is revealed in his expert capacity for violence? Or is that identity, that of the highly trained killer, written by the CIA?

The irony in all this is that poor Amy has no say whatsoever as her story is written and rewritten ad nauseam by her father from start to finish. This as the movie keeps moving Ben towards a moment of seeming genuine authorship, where he can control his life narrative completely if only for a single moment, as opposed to being controlled. As that moment remains a moving target, however, what Erased does manage to illuminate, dimly, is that the fear of erasure cuts both ways. On the one hand, we may fear that our identities and futures might be wiped out. On the other hand, we fear some parts of our past exist forever.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.