Randal Rauser on How Netflix’s “Unbelievable” Breaks the True-Crime Genre Mold With a Story of Justice and Redemption

I’m not one of those people who is prone to binge-watch the latest big series on Netflix. But lo and behold, this past weekend my wife and I were mesmerized by the critically acclaimed new cop-investigation drama “Unbelievable.” The eight-episode show is based on an extraordinary and awful real-life case of a young woman who, after reporting a rape, was accused by the police of false reporting, and who was later vindicated due to the hard work of investigators in another state.

I first became aware of this terrible story when it was featured a few years ago on an episode of NPR’s This American Life. (You can listen to that episode here.) “Unbelievable” is powerful viewing with strong performances by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as the lead investigators and Kaitlyn Dever as the young victim  survivor.

To its credit, “Unbelievable” places the spotlight on the survivors of sexual assault. While the show does not linger on disturbing images of rape and violence, it provides ample jarring flashbacks to convey the horror without becoming gratuitous. (On that point, it contrasts markedly with the notorious long-form rape scene in the 1988 film The Accused.)

In my opinion, one of the most powerful moments of the show comes in a comparison-contrast drawn between the first and final episodes. The first episode includes a relatively detailed and disturbing depiction of the “processing” of a rape victim in the hospital. It is painful to watch young Marie (Dever) being forced to undergo further indignities. Herein is a reminder of the continued need to humanize a system of medicine and justice which can all-too-often depersonalize and thereby hurt the very people it purports to help.

The final episode features a sequence that clearly is intended to compare and contrast with Marie’s experience, though now it is the rapist being processed into the prison system. At one point, he stands completely naked in the cell, and while this too is awkward viewing at best, the symbolism is powerful: this man’s wicked crimes are now laid bare for the world to see, there is no more hiding, and now he can taste a modicum of the horrific humiliation that he visited upon others.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Randal Rauser