More than a pop icon, Michael Jackson lived as pop royalty. Musicians, filmmakers, presidents, even actual royalty were enamored with his presence. Fans eagerly awaited his next move like their lives depended on it, and his presence generated half a billion dollars by the time he died in 2009. All that fame and power came with a price, though. The Moonwalker was notoriously reclusive, and rumors of alleged plastic surgery and sleeping in beds with young boys became ample tabloid fodder. The latter allegation landed him in court twice – the first time ending in settlement and the second time full judicial acquittal. Maybe he really was so uncomfortable with sex that he only slept next to boys in bed. Or maybe not. Over a grueling four hours split into two parts, director Dan Reed examines the claims of two men whose lives were permanently altered by Michael Jackson.
“…a raging pedophile who intentionally sought out vulnerable families for the sole purpose of preying on their young boys.”
Leaving Neverland seamlessly interweaves the stories of Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck together into a single narrative, from fandom to meeting and working with Jackson to their entire families becoming close confidants to the pop star for several years. Spouses, parents, and siblings all back their stories along with ample footage to prove that Jackson played a strong role in these families’ lives. It all starts innocently enough, but soon things get weird and incredibly uncomfortable. By the end, you want to bathe.
For his part, Dan Reed has certainly delivered a compelling thesis that Michael Jackson was a raging pedophile who intentionally sought out vulnerable families for the sole purpose of preying on their young boys. Admittedly, the first 45 minutes or so are slow, but they serve to set the stage for what proves to be truly vile activity concerning a grown man and children. Reed firmly believes the accounts of the two men, as nobody outside of their families gets any screen time.
“…strength lies not in the accounts, however, but in the emotional journey they lead.”
Perhaps the director’s greatest strength lies not in the accounts, however, but in the emotional journey they lead. You begin with a heavy dose of skepticism: Who are these guys and what do they stand to gain from all this? Eventually, the allegations creep in, but they’re so outrageous, you almost dismiss it all as another attempt to destroy an icon, but you continue to watch and see that these men are genuinely uncomfortable as they describe these things that no child should ever endure. Then you consider their families and wonder what they stand to gain from all this. Eventually, you find yourself on their side, numb and disgusted by everything you’ve heard, though – it’s important to stress—this is all told from only one perspective.
It’s difficult to admit that our heroes are not the perfect deities we make them out to be. We place these strangers on a pedestal so high that it will crush us if they fall. Is Leaving Neverland the truth? We weren’t there, so we’ll never know for sure, but if you’ve been skeptical about the whole thing, you may find yourself less so. Ultimately, it’s up to you to watch it and decide for yourself.
Leaving Neverland (2019) Directed by Dan Reed. Starring Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck and Michael Jackson.
9 out of 10 stars