‘It Just Didn’t Seem That Strange’: Part 1 of ‘Leaving Neverland’ Sees Fairytale and Horror Combine Into Surreal Reality


“He was one of many kindest, most mild, loving, caring folks I knew," Wade Robson says of Michael Jackson originally of half one of HBO's two-part Leaving Neverland documentary. "And he additionally sexually abused me, for seven years."

Premiering on Sunday evening (Mar. three), half one in all Leaving Neverland focuses on the tales of two alleged survivors of underage sexual assault by the hands of the most important pop star of the 20th century within the late '80s and early '90s -- which ends in 1992, round when each males say Jackson began to drag again on their relationships, and simply earlier than abuse allegations in opposition to Jackson first grew to become public -- and the way they've needed to reconcile these two sides of the person they cherished so dearly. What actually makes their respective accountings of a childhood dominated by this larger-than-life grownup so devastating is that whereas it's been almost a decade since Michael Jackson's demise, and a quarter-century since most of his claimed abuse, it nonetheless appears not possible for both Robson or James Safechuck -- former little one performers precocious and gifted sufficient to catch Jackson's eye as pre-teens -- to view these two sides of him individually. 

If it wasn't for that early Robson quote, or the cacophony of buzz that's surrounded Leaving Neverland's pre-release, it wouldn't be completely clear from half one's first 40 minutes whether or not you have been watching a fairytale or a horror film. The quotes from each Robson and Safechuck (in addition to their respective households) as they recount assembly Jackson by fortuitous early showbiz encounters, and regularly getting swept up into and seduced by his world of seemingly infinite risk, nonetheless carry the awe of the second. "How fortunate are we?" "We're the luckiest boys on this planet." "It was a fairytale each evening." These quotes aren't delivered with obvious bitterness, both: No matter how palpable the irony of the assertion (“I bear in mind considering that nobody’s ever gonna consider this," mom Stephanie Safechuck says of the incredulity of 1 early go to with Jackson), nobody interviewed for Leaving Neverland ever appears to be projecting their very own bigger commentary onto the movie's narrative. They by no means lead you into the story's subsequent chapter -- actually, they typically sound like they don't even completely know the ending but themselves. 

The introduction of sexuality into the story of Jackson's relationship with these two boys -- neither of whom was older than seven after they allege the pop star grew to become bodily with them -- is most jarring in that it's given no apparent buildup. There's no Behind the Music-style narration to explicitly forecast that issues are about to take a dramatic flip; there's no narration in Leaving Neverland in any respect. There's no large musical shift, no lingering silence or photographs of an interview topic struggling to get the phrases out. "In Paris, he launched me to masturbation," Safechuck says of Jackson, with no main distinction in tone to how he beforehand described attending to "interview" Jackson on a airplane, or getting mobbed by followers whereas touring with him on tour -- simply the identical sort of shell-shocked awe and confusion with which all of the Neverland topics appear to strategy recollections of these early days. Ultimately, the movie means that to Jackson and these boys, all of that different stuff was the buildup to a sexual relationship, normalizing the surreal in these boys' lives to the purpose the place nothing may presumably appear all that out of the extraordinary. "It simply didn't appear that unusual," Robson says, recalling their first sexual contact.

Two different components of Leaving Neverland make it a very brutal viewing expertise, regardless of how a lot you've examine it or how ready for it you assume you might be. One is the sheer exhaustiveness of the sexual exercise finally described. When Safechuck and Robson start to explain the alleged abuse -- touching that's inappropriate on any degree for an grownup to carry out with a toddler -- it appears to at the very least have a skinny veneer of childhood exploration at first, the sort that makes it conceivable that it could have been offered by Jackson to his younger costs as a easy extension of their friendship and love for each other. But as their descriptions proceed into extra particular and graphic territory, that veneer shortly dissolves into unmistakable, gut-wrenching exploitation. Even worse than the number of contact alleged is the sheer quantity: At one level, Safechuck describes an outlay of the Neverland grounds as if giving a guided tour, however his description of almost each space or room ends with an unflinching addendum: "We would have intercourse in there, too." 

The second is the illustration of Michael Jackson as a grasp manipulator. With Jackson projecting a naivete and innocence to the world that's childlike in itself, and along with his personal historical past of youthful trauma nicely documented, it was straightforward to see the worst headlines about him that piled up over 30 years of scandal and have the ability to inform your self that even when he was responsible, he most likely didn't completely grasp the importance of what he was doing -- that he actually thought he was being a good friend to those boys. But listening to Robson and Safechuck's tales of how Jackson remoted them from their dad and mom, how he tried to show them in opposition to others and girls particularly ("Look how imply your mother is, and the way evil girls are," Safechuck recollects Jackson telling him whereas the 2 eavesdropped on the previous's dad and mom preventing), and the way he regularly phased them out of his life as soon as he discovered newer, youthful companions, that interpretation turns into far much less tenable. With the entire misconduct alleged within the two hours of half one, essentially the most chilling second most likely comes when Joy Robson, Wade's mom, describes Jackson's response to her refusal to go away Wade with him in Los Angeles for a full yr: "Well, I all the time get what what I need." 

Yet regardless of all this alleged malfeasance on Jackson's half, the interview topics nonetheless appear to largely view him with a combination of fondness, pity and awe. There's nonetheless a touch of a smile evident when Joy and Stephanie describe their households being wooed by the pop icon, and glee within the reminiscence when the Safechucks describe getting to fulfill Sean Connery and Harrison Ford on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade because of their affiliation with Jackson. The greatest method to describe the tone of Wade and James as they element their earliest MJ experiences -- significantly (although not completely) earlier than the abuse allegedly began -- is one in all a haunted wistfulness, as if the cup-runneth-over pleasure and happiness of these days continues to be very a lot part of them, and their main want could be to recapture that feeling, with out it being tainted by all of the heartbreak and trauma they are saying got here after. But to them, even now, Michael Jackson is clearly nonetheless very a lot Michael Jackson: The best entertainer and most overwhelming human presence they ever knew, along with being a tragic, lonely, egomaniacal and finally harmful and harmful particular person. 

"There's no stars like that now," James Safechuck claims when describing Jackson's intergalactic superstar at one level early within the documentary. It's true -- and maybe the strongest argument made by the primary a part of Leaving Neverland is that it's most likely for one of the best that there aren't.