We saw Spotlight on Sunday, a film about the 2001 Boston Globe investigation into child abuse within the Catholic Church in that city, a film that just ranked #1 on the best movies of the year lists in both Time and Entertainment Weekly (you can see how a film about the importance of journalists are might appeal to journalist film critics). It’s very good, in a reporter-procedural sort of way (a comparison to All the President’s Men is not inappropriate), as a ‘Spotlight’ team of four reporters at that paper follow a story about a single incident of molestation into a much bigger story, in particular one with many priests more involved — 13? 90? — and how the abuse was known, and suppressed, by the highest levels of church authority, not just for a few years, but for decades. It stars a quirky Michael Keaton, a passionate Mark Ruffalo, and a subdued Liev Schreiber, and character roles by Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup, among others (John Slattery from Mad Men).
The film shows a bit a standard plot structure, with turns of events the keep delaying the publication of the big story, but I especially appreciate that, despite a recurrent issue about earlier evidence sent to the paper that produced no response, the plot never devolves into what you keep thinking might be about good reporters vs biased reporters. On the contrary that issue resolves in a prosaically passive way, a way I suspect many of us can appreciate in the way we perform our jobs very well most of the time, not so well other times.
Two or three more comments:
First, how the Mark Ruffalo character mentions that his investigations suggest that these priests don’t target boys because the priests are gay… but because boys are more shamed, and thus less likely to tell anyone, about their abuse. [This of course counters the right-wing defense of Catholic abuse as somehow being all about gays.]
Second, there is a creepy scene in which one of the Spotlight reporters confronts one of the priests at his front door, where the priest cheerfully admits what he’s done, about abusing young boys — but says, twice, as if it is very important, that he himself got no satisfaction from those events …and also mentions, offhand as if it is not necessarily relevant, that he himself had been ‘raped’ as a child. The film doesn’t have time to follow up or explore these comments, but it does suggest that the psychology behind all these incidents is not so simple as we might think.
And third, the film does mention the Catholic practice of celibacy as being a major culprit, though only once.
Finally, I’m thinking this entire theme is an example of how society is moving from various levels of tribal allegiances, to the recognition and validation of individual human potential. In this case, the importance of deflecting criticisms of the Catholic Church, despite the harm caused to numerous individuals, because of the value of the Church overall. A point made more than once by various characters in this film. If there’s a trend in recent social history, at least in Western cultures, it seems to be about the value of the individual, in spite of social and religious institutions.