Non-Mormon Mormon Movies Part 2 — Catch Me If You Can

I’m going to continue the series begun by Geoff with the movie Catch Me If You Can. In this fact-based movie (I don’t know what was changed for dramatic purposes, so my thoughts stem only from the movie, not what may have actually happened), Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager, becomes a brilliant con artist, and cashes millions of dollars of fraudulent checks in many countries. He begins his path when his father gets in trouble with the IRS, and then his parents separate. He wants to regain his father’s losses and get his parents back together, figuring if he can fix their money problems, then they will be happy again. He impersonates an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer, all quite successfully, even though he is a teenager. At one point, Frank is clearly tired of running from the FBI and anyone else who would know he is a fraud, and goes to his father, clearly wanting to be acceptable in his father’s eyes and able to stop lying and running. His father just encourages him to continue. From early on, the FBI pursues him, led by Agent Carl Hanratty. After a few years, Hanratty succeeds in catching Frank in France, and Frank is tried and jailed.

Here is where I find the movie turns from merely an interesting story, into a tale with a spiritual theme. It would be so easy for Hanratty, whose attempts to catch Frank were frustrated by mere moments and sly slips more than once, to be justifiably angry towards Frank, happy to lock him up and throw away the key. But though he did his job and finally apprehended Frank, he did it with compassion. There was no grandstanding or taunting. He felt bad when he had to tell Frank that his father was dead. He saw Frank as a complex, feeling human being. That didn’t mean justice was not to be carried out, but that justice was tempered with kindness.

After Frank was in prison, Hanratty visited him, bringing him comics books, which he knew from his pursuit Frank enjoyed. Again, kindness. While speaking with Frank, Hanratty mentioned that he was pursuing another person writing fraudulent checks. Frank asked to see the check, and when Hanratty obliged him, Frank pointed out everything that was wrong with the check, what the forger was doing that would make it possible for the FBI to catch him. Hanratty, realizing that Frank could be of use to the FBI, wanted to recruit him, but first he had to get him released from prison. After a few years, it happened.

This is where I see a theme of forgiveness along with the kindness and compassion. Hanratty saw Frank as an asset, certainly, but he still saw him as a person and cared about him. Frank was definitely still a flight risk, and after that first week on the job, Frank did indeed run. Hanratty found him at the airport, again impersonating a pilot, but this was not a pursuit. He merely let Frank know he did not need to run anymore, that his fate was fully in his hands, and he had a good option that had just been handed to him that he could choose. Though late, Frank did return Monday morning. He proved to be a wonderful help to the FBI and to banking security, and Frank and Hanratty developed a strong friendship.

Would such a tale have happened if, as seems so easy, Hanratty had been cruel or indifferent, seeing Frank – a criminal who had stolen millions – as nothing more than that criminal? The people I’m surrounded by are not criminals or the dregs of society. Am I that kind to those who cross me or hurt me? Am I willing to see others as people who think and feel, not merely as an annoyance with a name?

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About Tanya Spackman

Tanya was born in Provo, Utah, on a warm July day. After escaping childhood with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises (except for 5 stitches - oh, and that incident with the staple in the thumb), she graduated from BYU with a degree in molecular biology. Before graduation, she served a mission in Chicago. As graduation neared, she decided lab work really wasn't her thing, and she had no interest in research or teaching (but really, molecular biology is interesting), so she decided to attempt the world of technical writing. Thus, she now works as a technical writer/editor for the Navy in Washington, DC. She loves to read and travel.

10 thoughts on “Non-Mormon Mormon Movies Part 2 — Catch Me If You Can

  1. Tanya, good post, and thanks for mentioning this very interesting movie. I think the theme of forgiveness is very important and relevant.

  2. like we’ve all heard a million times, the book is so much better than the movie. a lot was changed to make it fit into a film. do yourselves a favor and read the book. it’s a fun, fast read, and totally fascinating.

    to second ivan, he was never mormon but did teach a summer course at byu or something like that. he never did mention the university by name in his book, but it was pretty clear where it was. i believe he even talked at byu recently, although i could be confusing him w/ someone else.

  3. Abignale forged documents that he passed off under the eyes of Mormon authorities? Hmmm, sounds familiar. The dean of the department should have received revelation that it wasn’t true!

  4. You’ve got it all wrong, Eric… The prophet should have had a dream warning him of the situation, and given a drawing of Abagnale, along with the presumed name he would be using, to the dean of the correct department warning him of the coming danger.

  5. I met Frank once, pre-movie. When I worked for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, he spoke at a business luncheon we put on. It was about how businesses could avoid being cheated, from a criminal’s perspective – what schemes to watch out for, what safeguards to put in place, etc. One of the highest attended luncheons we ever had. Very engaging guy, very charming. He had a persona that inspired trust.

    Anyway, he casually mentioned during the luncheon that you could take $5 or $10 bills, color copy them, and feed them into a vending machine and get change back after purchasing something (Keep in mind this was 12 years ago.). I casually mentioned this to my 10 year old brother – and was horrified to find a HUGE jar full of change in his room the next week, which he eventually admitted he had earned through counterfeiting a $5 bill he’d gotten for his birthday. Eeek.

  6. ACtually, that section of the book made me wonder about BYU, since he freely admits one of his only addictions was women – and that he slept with a lot of women while on the run.

    He says he got the job at BYU to have more access to co-eds – and that he went on a lot of dates with students while there.

    but – y’know, I’m sure all they did was sightsee or something.

  7. I very seriously doubt he ever taught at UVSC. Back then it was a technical trades school with hardly a co-ed in sight. Automotive, metal work, machine operation, etc. were taught but no business classes per se. The types of classes taught then would have attracted males not females.

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