Why didn't she run? Why didn't she scream? Why didn't she tell puzzled bystanders or suspicious cops that she was, indeed, Elizabeth Smart? That Elizabeth Smart, the lovely, fairy-tale-obsessed 14-year-old who, in 2002, was snatched from her Utah home by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee and subjected to nine months of physical and psychological abuse fueled by Mitchell's twisted God complex and sexual appetites.
For 15 years, Smart has heard it all. From TV and radio talking heads. From lawyers and reporters and people on the street. From other kidnapping victims who reach out to her online and at her many speaking engagements. And though she coauthored 2013's My Story to document her torment as Mitchell and Barzee dragged her on a horrific multistate odyssey, Smart realized that a crucial facet of her story had somehow escaped the public's understanding. Emotion. Palpable, indelible, relatable emotion.
Enter the Lifetime original film "I Am Elizabeth Smart" debuting Saturday, Nov. 18. Two years in the making and coproduced and narrated by Smart, the film reveals how Mitchell (played by Riverdale's Skeet Ulrich) targeted the girl after her father Ed gave him odd jobs, knowing he could use Elizabeth's innocence, staunch Mormon faith and familial devotion to make her bend to his will. And how Smart (via a gutsy performance by newcomer Alana Boden) eventually turned the tables, capitalizing on her captors' own weaknesses to champion her rescue.
"Watching it now brings up feelings that I have not felt in 15 years," Smart explains. "It's a very accurate portrayal of what it really was like, not just what happened. Not just ticking off the boxes -- 'rape happened, this happened, that happened' -- but the intensity of the emotion that was always going on inside me, between my captors and me. I had so many doubts that that would ever be possible to capture onscreen."
And a few trepidations once filming got underway.
Smart recalls her shock the first moment she saw Ulrich and The Blacklist's Deirdre Lovejoy (as Barzee) in costume and visited the film's re-creation of the pair's encampment. "Seeing them on the set acting, it was otherworldly -- and not in a good way," she says. "They were just so accurate. And they wanted my feedback. So, I'd be like, 'OK, I feel like I want to throw up watching you now, so if you can turn it up so I actually throw up, that's how it should be.'"
"The story is ultimately about how people can pervert religion for evil means -- and how people can use it for salvation," Ulrich says. "Mitchell's whole religious concoction really just came out of pedophilia and a way to abuse people."
Smart wants viewers to focus on the salvation part.
"There are so many victims out there who don't tell anyone what's happened to them," the happily married mother of two explains. "They're carrying these huge loads that they don't deserve to carry. I want them to know that they don't have to carry this burden all by themselves, and they can be happy again. If someone watches this who is still being held captive, I want them to know not to give up -- that we don't just move on and forget. And I hope it's a reminder to anyone who watches this film that there are [kidnapped] children who are still alive that we can't just write off. We can never give up hope. We can never stop looking."
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