Review by Kerry Eleveld
Rating: (2 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/15/2011, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at GWU Documentary Center
GONE: THE DISAPPEARANCE of Aeryn Gilleran is the tragic real-life story of a 34-year-old gay man gone missing in Vienna, Austria, that leaves viewers swimming in a sea of unanswered questions to no good end. Aeryn Gilleran, an American who worked for an agency within the United Nations and a former Mr. Gay Austria, was last seen at a posh Vienna sauna on October 29, 2007, but what happened there and how that relates to his disappearance we may never know.
Aeryn, who hailed from a town in central New York, was reportedly seen running from the sauna that night in nothing but a towel and allegedly spotted floating down the Danube by a fisherman later that evening. But Vienna police officials casually dismiss Aeryn’s case as “spontaneous suicide,” seemingly refuse to launch a proper investigation, and present false facts to his mother, Kathy Gilleran — a retired Ithaca, NY, police officer. Bottom line, they approach Aeryn’s case with what appears to be total disdain and disregard all while treating his grief-stricken mother deplorably.
The suspicious chain of events that unfolded that late October evening are relayed solely through the eyes of Kathy Gilleran, and the film is as much about her attempt to cope with the crushing loss of her son and her search for justice as it is about Aeryn’s vanishing. While Ms. Gilleran leads viewers through a series of revelations that credibly documents what is either a horribly botched investigation at best or serious wrongdoing and a potential cover up at worst, it’s too much to ask of any single subject to carry an entire feature-length documentary.
The film drives home certain points relentlessly, such as Ms. Gilleran’s understandably palpable anguish, but fails to satisfy some of this mystery’s most basic quandaries, like what Aeryn’s friends knew about his acquaintances and perhaps theorized about his disappearance, what the police could possibly be hiding, and why U.S. diplomats appear to have done little-to-nothing to find the truth. It ultimately leaves viewers wishing the filmmakers had interviewed a wider range of people, made more inquiries of both U.S. and Austrian officials and, quite simply, probed the subject matter with the tenacity of a hungry investigative reporter.
Aeryn Gilleran’s story is both compelling and worthy of scrutiny and his mother’s quest for the truth is equally as courageous and heart-wrenching. But the film itself lacks structure and takes on an unfortunate one-dimensional feel due to its dearth of varied voices and sourcing.
Gone attempts to shine a light on the dark corners of a tale riddled with inconsistencies but it fails to illuminate much more than a mother’s despair and a gut-level sense that something went horribly awry, which might have translated into gripping cinema if the fundamentals of the film had been stronger.