Director Sonia Kennebeck’s new political documentary Enemies of the State is one of the 50 selection titles that premiered last week at the 45th Toronto International Film Festival. With plot twists worthy of fictional thrillers, Enemies of the State is a captivating story that provides far more questions than answers.
Kennebeck takes you on an investigative journey through the lives of an American family and their ‘hacktivist’ son Matt DeHart, who claims to have been tortured by the US government in 2010 for his alleged espionage and association with Anonymous and WikiLeaks. However, the prosecuting attorneys argue that the main reason for the investigation is suspicion of DeHart’s involvement with child pornography.
After spending 21 months in prison, DeHart is released on bond and decides to seek asylum in Canada with his parents, Paul and Leann. In a sea of inconclusive evidence, the viewer has to take on the role of the judge in deciding Matt’s innocence or guilt.
We learn about Matt’s mysterious persona mostly through the perspective of his friends and parents. In one of the early scenes, a high school friend recalls a time when Matt spitefully put a dead fish in the ceiling of the student council office after having lost an election, claiming “victory through integrity.”
Cleverly, Kennebeck suggests right off the bat that there is something fishy about Matt’s narrative: to what lengths would the DeHarts sustain a lie to protect their integrity as a religious family with former ties to the US Army?
At the same time, the portrayal of incredibly bold images of actors reenacting torture and the inclusion of multiple videos of Matt’s childhood suggests that this bizarre case deserves the audience’s sympathy — even as he is charged for child pornography.
In a world where the absence of social justice seems to be ubiquitous, and the desire for a hero to do justice with their own hands is on the rise, this sympathy is almost guaranteed with a mainstream audience — and Kennebeck endorses this with clean shots of the DeHarts in moments of raw vulnerability.
Amidst the secrets and lies, the only one who can guarantee some transparency in this documentary is the director herself, as she quotes Oscar Wilde in the very first scene: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” This sentiment persists throughout the entirety of the film, as you’re immersed in a truly journalistic experience: understanding the order of events will not always be easy, and information is rarely complete. The plot is frustratingly confusing at times, and you might need a notepad and a pen to follow the steps of the investigation.
Though it is not a leisurely watch, Enemies of the State will certainly satiate your thirst for conspiracy theories with hackers, court hearings, foreign embassies, the Central Intelligence Agency, whistleblowers — you name it. It will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end and leave you questioning, even if only momentarily, the absolute truths that support your reality.