On the evening of his high school graduation, Steve Lickteig discovered a shocking secret about his life. Though unknown by him for 18 years, the secret was common knowledge to everyone he knew. Years later, Licktieg returns to his Kansas farm home to confront his adoptive parents and his eight brothers and sisters to get the whole truth behind the lies told to him since birth. Now, aware of the truth, he seeks to know all he can about the “open secret” shared by his family and their entire home town.
Open Secret is a fascinating story of Lickteig’s life, told extremely well by the only person who can, Lickteig himself. The film begins by teasing the viewer with the promise of a juicy family secret. Once revealed the secret becomes the least of the reasons to become engrossed in this documentary. The relationships between mother and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister are tested, destroyed, rebuilt and recreated, all the while watching the emotional turmoil churn within a man searching for answers and clarity in a murky history of lies.
“I don’t like things to be mish-mashed, I like them to be orderly,” Lickteig says at one point, and it appears that order is his main adversary. His frustration is apparent as he tries to put the stories together for his own catharsis, but every tale is wrought with contradictions and emotional disorder. It is a powerful glimpse into the soul of someone who desperately wants their life to make sense, but is too analytical to accept the emotional insanity required to understand the revelation thrust upon him.
The documentary is simply made, but made very well. The level of honesty and access to private emotions Lickteig allows the viewer is the gravity that pulls the whole film along. It is moving to see someone, who used to be happy and carefree have to deal with circumstances that are so emotionally tremendous. It is also hard to watch the emotional immaturity of some of the people in his life who have made this overgrown secret so much bigger than it needed to be. Truth is the goal of this film and it is fought for with every fiber of Lickteig’s being. Some truths turn out to be false, some turn out to be lies and others are discovered along the way making the journey so very engrossing.
Open Secret is so raw and true that you cannot help but appreciate the effort Lickteig is making to clarify the emotional bog of his life. His sincerity wins our interest and affection raising the emotional stakes of the film. In the film, like in life, there are no clear cut answers or solutions just a hard won acceptance of who his family really is and the possibility of what they might become in the future.
Open Secret is playing as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival on Tuesday May 3 at 9:30 pm at the Cumberland Theatre and Thursday May 5 at 11:00 am the Isabel Bader Theatre.