Maybe it was author Tom Wolfe who said it (if not, I’ll say it): “The collective subconscious of America is like an old church lady.”
We in America like to tut-tut Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” publicly, and watch Internet porn privately. Sanctimoniousness and denial are a dangerous combination.
Which is why Dana Carvey (as the Church Lady) was a big hit on SNL. She once ridiculed Sean Penn’s then-wife Madonna’s over-the-top sexuality, claiming Madonna “Doesn’t quite … live up to … her namesake.”
The running gag of the Church Lady was her denial of her own repressed sexuality, which leaked out in her obvious delight in salacious subject matter, fueling her false piety. We enjoyed tut-tutting Bill Clinton’s foibles, while slicing and dicing the salacious details. Church lady was a lightning rod for this American tendency that stems from our puritanical past.
Speaking of Madonna, “Spotlight,” the best movie of 2015, is about how the Catholic Church, in covering up its pedophile-priest problem, not only didn’t live up to its object of veneration—the Madonna—but blasphemed the Madonna mightily every time a frocked pederast prescribed “Hail Marys” to sinners.
This line from the movie says it all: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to molest one, too.” Subconscious-church-lady syndrome: sanctimoniousness and denial.
What Spotlight Spotlights
“Spotlight” is an indictment of pedophile-priests, as well as the circle-the-wagons psychology of religious institutions such as the Catholic Church that harbor secretive wrong-doing (such as Mormon pedophile-bar-none Franklin Curtis).
In the same way Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler laments at the end of “Schindler’s List” that he didn’t save more Jews from Nazi death camps, one leaves “Spotlight” wishing someone had spotted, defined, and addressed the problem earlier.
As is usually the case, people suspect these things go on. This is the story of the crack team of world-class journalists who took it on. “Spotlight” is riveting from beginning to end.
How It All Began
In 2001, editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) moves to the Boston Globe newspaper from the Miami Herald. He’s brought in because broadsheet newspapers are having a difficult time competing with the Internet.
The Globe has a small, elite investigative department known as “Spotlight.” Headed up by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), It’s made up of four reporters who spend lengthy amounts of time (months) investigating a single story.
Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) are the workhorses. Due to the unprecedented shock-value, drama, and immensity of this particular story, boss Robby rolls up his sleeves and picks up the investigative pickaxe, along side his underlings.
While on a story involving the police department, they catch wind of a different story about a local priest abusing multiple children. They start investigating and soon turn up many victims and high-up, hush-hush conspiracy, the court documentation of which they’ll end up having to sue the Catholic Church for.
As we now know, that one instance became a nine-headed Hydra that sprouted thousands of heads worldwide, and had been allowed to fester unseen by officials going up very high in the Boston Diocese, as well as the jackal-lawyers who benefited from all the hush-hush.
“Spotlight” Director Tom McCarthy demonstrates that the story is all in the telling of it. Legal documents, periodical perusing, legalese, reporter meetings, reporters sitting in stuffy offices waiting for interviews, etc., are all, on the surface of it—guaranteed yawn-fests. The movie contains not one boring second.
More than the well-explained details and the broad strokes that capture the proverbial thousand words in pictures, instead of overloading our brains, it’s the impact of all this heinous priestly wrongdoing on innocent children that stuns. The needle-tracks on a grown victim’s arm bespeak metric tons of depression; utterances of the word “suicide” carry new meaning.
Perhaps most powerful of all is lapsed-Catholic Michael Rezendes’s monologue, backed by cozy shots of a children’s choir singing “Silent Night,” as he speaks bitterly of how he’d hoped one day to go back, and recover the lost innocence of his child self that had loved going to church; how this dream had been forever dashed by Spotlight’s discoveries.
Why the Best Film?
It’s the best told story hands down, of 2015, except for “Creed” and “The Revenant.” But more than that, it does what art should do and attempts a healing and an uplifting through the systematic dismantling of this particular wall of secrecy. We’re only as sick as our secrets, it is said.
An ascetic path containing conditions such as the Catholic priestly vow of celibacy is as fraught with danger as soloing a 20,000 foot Himalayan mountain. Celibacy is absolutely no joke and is not for lightweights, dilettantes, and fakers. Anything less is religious quackery at best; utterly demonic at worst.
The main gift of this film is how it understands that things of a spiritual nature are of utmost importance to humans. The film shows how the sickness in the Catholic Church has finally been divested of its secrecy and hopefully the condition purged. Spotlight indeed.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
4.5 stars out of 5