Two years after her Oscar success with her starring role in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek continued to impress the Academy with her role in the controversial 1982 movie Missing – the story about a woman and her father-in-law who look for her disappeared husband during times of uproar in an unnamed South American country during the 1970s. It’s a very intense, thrilling and provoking motion picture which reflects on political events but also uses its two protagonists to portray different believes and opinions about the world we live in and the necessity to join forces for a greater good.
In a role that could have been the stereotypical suffering and hysterical wife, both the script and Sissy Spacek took a welcoming choice by turning Beth Horman into a woman who is very competent in her own way, who knows how to handle different situations and circumstances but doesn’t deny her fear – for herself and, of course, her husband Charlie. Sissy Spacek, who is like a chameleon when it comes to slipping into her characters, crafts Beth as a very ordinary, average woman who believes in her own ideals even though it is never fully clear how strong these ideals really are and if they are the results of her own thinking and development or rather a shallow part of her own way of life. When Beth’s husband suddenly disappears and she has to face a bodiless machinery of bureaucracy, state terror and murder, she begins to understand that she can’t face the situation alone and needs the help of her father-in-law – a man who seems to symbolize everything that Beth dislikes about her old life in America.
The unlikely pairing of Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek is the biggest success in Missing – but for Sissy Spacek herself it also becomes her biggest challenge as Jack Lemmon provides an excellent and moving portrayal of a father desperate to find his son while seeing his own believes slowly destroyed. Sissy Spacek’s Beth is in a similar, yet very different situation. Her opinions about the higher levels of politics have always been negative and seem to be verified now, but at the same time it’s visible that there is also a loss of hope inside her character – up until now, everything seemed to have been a game for her, even though a dangerous one. When she walks through the city at night in the beginning, violating the curfew, witnessing acts of terror, she seems hardly scared at all. Sissy Spacek chose a very interesting approach by not using these scenes to show a wide display of fear and shock but rather laid the foundation for a very calm and practical character who can face actual problems very easy but who always looses all her strengths and abilities whenever she faces the rejection and cover-up of state ministries and bureaucrats. The word that could be best used to describe Beth is inconvenient. But this is not because she wants to be this way, rather she seems unable to control herself whenever she gets upset or angry – she very often talks too much, too loud and too inappropriately. There is a certain rudeness in her, coming from the fact that she openly rejects any kind of authority. But her inability to avoid the authorities, to push them aside in her search also sets a trap for her own character – she is unwilling to work with the people whom she blames for the disappearance of her husband but at the same time she can’t find him without their cooperation. Sissy Spacek shows with small gestures and moments how Beth is constantly fighting against her own character during the various talks with high officials – how she is holding on to her temper only to snap at some point. Beth is clearly a smart woman but very often her personality prevents her from achieving the results she would like – but also because she refuses to bend this personality and her own believes for any reason.