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TV REVIEWS : 'Multiple Personalities' Raises More Questions Than Answers

July 13, 1993|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN

It isn't until the last few seconds of film in "Multiple Personalities: The Search for Deadly Memories" that a viewer finds the key behind this HBO documentary (at 10 tonight). The final credit: "Based on an idea presented by Gloria Steinem."

And then it makes sense: All the grandiose statements, the near-complete lack of scientific fact, the extrapolating from the three cases profiled are here in the service of the small, loopy branch of feminism that feels that child abuse, particularly sexual child abuse, is at the root of every problem in the universe.

You can't help feeling sympathetic to the people profiled in this segment of "America Undercover": Gretchen, an art student; John, a police officer; and Barb, a housewife. These people are in pain, and producer-director-writer Michael Mierendorf never lets us forget it--there are close-ups of them being taken over by their "bad" personalities, close-ups of the physical wounds they inflict on themselves, close-ups of their terror and loneliness as they encounter long-suppressed memories.

And much of it is interesting, in a voyeuristic sort of way. Gretchen's personalities keep extensive notes in a journal, with different handwriting for each; John, a much-decorated police officer, has personalities that come out at different times of his job depending on the skill needed (and they all have different shooting styles); Barb's personality shifts range from a 5-year-old playing with Barb's young children at the supermarket to a teen who goes on high-living, check-cashing sprees.

But none of this is placed in context--How many are afflicted by this ailment? What percentage of them were abused as children? Is there a proven link? And so on--and this lack of information finally overwhelms any interest in the show. Steinem, who also narrates the intro and coda, says, "Truth, no matter how terrible, always comes with gifts in its hand. . . . For us, it brings a new understanding of child abuse. . . ."

Unfortunately, "Multiple Personalities" comes up empty-handed.

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