'Spotlight' The Movie: When Boston's Wall of Silence Crumpled

The film "Spotlight" was recently released, based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Boston Archdiocese’s willful coverup of child molestation and abuse. The reviews have been, like the movie itself, scattered.

This is, without a doubt, a shattering film. Well made and well acted, it nevertheless seems doomed to the obscurity that greets certain films that are just a little too difficult. The timing is bad --released as America heads toward Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, audiences have every reason to turn towards something feel good and fun. The story is 15 years on, and something we all feel we know a little too well. As an audience, we don’t want to forget, we just don’t want to remember. And that, too, is part of this story.

Fifteen years is not so very long a time. In historical terms, it is everything and nothing. It isn’t yesterday, but it also isn’t a period piece. Yes, a decade and a half ago, a desktop computer really was a desktop computer ...a squat humming plastic box the color of dust. Cellphones were all -- mainly -- still flip phones then. But, it wasn’t that long ago. Yes, outside of Boston, few non-Catholics had ever heard of Cardinal Law and few Americans could find Afghanistan on a map. But this is not the sort of dramatic period piece that can coast over discomforting facts with the comfort of distance. 

This is a frankly uncomfortable film about the most uncomfortable of stories. It becomes even more disturbing because this is a film about stories -- not just a story of wrong-doing, but a story about the stories people tell themselves when they try to avoid and forget the stories that we do not like to tell.

Pictured, left to right, the 'Spotlight' team of journalists at The Boston Globe: Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Keaton as 'Robby' Robinson and Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes.

This is also, sadly, not just a Boston story, or an Irish story -- the Catholic population of Boston is so overwhelmingly Irish in origin that Catholic and Irish are almost synonymous in Boston -- or an American story or an Irish-American story. And it is certainly not a newspaper story -- although in a way it is a story about a journalism legend slow to die. It is a story about fear. And it is fear that shines most strongly through this otherwise murky film -- fear of change, fear of shame, fear of outsiders, fear of the cliquish power of the clubby-fraternity of Irish Catholic men who dominated Boston by the end of the 20th century, fear of sin, fear of silence, fear of revelation, fear of disbelief and fear of power.

Appropriately enough in a story about stories, the reporters dominate. And yet, these are not the black-and-white crusading journalists who have dominated movie screens since the 1930s -- instead they are troubling in their realism. (Mark Ruffalo, in particular, skirts the edges of neurosis -- yes he wants to tell the story, but he also wants to break the story. And he seems truly outraged by the fact that someone else might get the story first.) But it is Michael Keaton in his role as Walter “Robby” Robinson who embodies the almost queasy acceptance of complicity that systemic corruption forces on even the most unaware of bystanders. Robinson is an Irish-Catholic. Proudly Boston bred and proudly Boston true. A reporter. And yet, for much of the film remained oblivious of the wall of silence raised around the most heinous of criminals who have smilingly committed the least forgivable of crimes. 

So ... worth watching? Yes. Some stories not only must be told but also must be heard. For Christmas? Maybe not.

Views: 983

Tags: Clergy, Faith, Film, Journalism, Movies, Reviews, Sexual Abuse

Comment by Norah McEvoy on January 4, 2016 at 2:35pm

I'm truly sorry that you and so many others suffered from their hands and since the truths started coming out it seemed like the majority of the church was corrupt etc. but thankfully enough clergy have spoken out against the church for covering up while still, like you, staying faithful and they help us to see that there are many genuine clergy of both nuns and priests who are equally as disgusted as the rest of us are with all of it. Some priests in particular have been shouted at and insulted on the streets simply because of their garb and they don't deserve it which is part of the same old story, to not tar everyone with the same brush...

Comment by michael dunne on January 4, 2016 at 8:43pm

Two good tests of the strength of a democracy are The citizens access to the law and equality of opportunity for women. Even when these two basics are present, the risk of child abuse still persists. There is no social barrier in this sickness and there is nothing I know of that prevents married mens indulgence in pedophilia and incest. I think the rule of celebacy among the clergy plays some part in sexual deviancy, but there is nothing to suggest they are more likely offenders than lay people. Church rules of celebacy, property, and the degradation of women through the ages may offer a part solution. The final analysis requires that when the general public become aware of child abuse that they report it and attend court if necessary. This type of societal behaviour will not be resolved by a public who seek painless surgery, seeking others to do the necessary.

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Comment by That's Just How It Was on January 5, 2016 at 7:19am

I would agree with you once again michael dunne ; that celibacy in the Catholic Church does go someway to having some sort of an explanation for all the abuses by Priests and Nuns all over the world.  Bearing in mind that the law against Priests marrying was only introduced approx 500 year sago  However as a retied Social Work manager ; like you [in your role as a Gardia ] - I saw horrific things happening in family , schools, street urchins, prostitution . 

As  Social Worker we were sent on specific very sensitive  training  to make sense of ; and try and understand what , where and why,  sexual offences take place . It woudl appear that if children are indoctrinated in and exposed to sexual deviance  from a very early age ; then  their behavior is already rooted---   that is what the child grows up with...  no boundaries on this type of behavior  ..... so they just repeat what has been done to them. breaking that history of abuse, whatever that abuse is ,  would be more beneficial to society  at large 

And once again I agree with you........... that the public baying for blood and sending these people to prison , is a sop to those that call for  blood...... is most definitely not the answer..

If every country in the world could study the justice system in Norway ... whereby the concentrate on treating the Offender .. making them worthy of their place ins society.. this would  go a long way to preventing ... overcrowded jails and overcrowded court rooms.     The re- offending in this system in dramatically reduced, there are citizens who take up responsible jobs and live decent lives.. .thereby contributing the the economic stability of the country, not being funded to remain in a prison cell and more importantly ........ lessons have been learnt .... Baying for blood puts those people  who call for it .... on a part with those who have offended .. MY son who is a probation Officer has had to study several countries Justice systems ... and guess which one he woudl suggest !!!!!     

Comment by michael dunne on January 6, 2016 at 10:53pm

Nuns have been the noblest and kindest people I have met in life. Sorry to hear of your aunts reported instances of ill treatment. From what I could see and experience personally, nuns were always at the cutting edge of helping the poor and the sick. A great philosopher Rousseau wrote a treatise on education titled Emile, and the gist of it was never to indoctrinate a child on matters of religion. allow him to formulate his own thoughts and questions. then try to answer them as impartially as one can. Women in all walks of life are under pressure to retain their dignity and equality, particularly in the Religious where they are under the thumb of the Vatican and all its Humble Servants?  Priests can be tyrannical and were more so pre internet and modern media times. Just as child abuse is not confined to the clergy pupil abuse is often in teachers and social workers health care workers looking after mentally challenged children. Wolves prey on the weak as do most animals. For every woman who makes a fool of a man there's a woman to make a man of a fool. Adults should protect and cherish all children and not pollute their heads with speculation.

Comment by michael dunne on January 10, 2016 at 8:38am

Norway can pack off its patients suffering from respiratory problems to the Canaries for months at the time. It is perhaps the wealthiest nation in western Europe. One of the root causes of social deprivation is poverty and lack of resources being made available. Now the Irish are christian and generous perhaps as good as any other nation. The resources however were always limited as to what we could afford for important issues like health and education. What is beginning to sneak into the Irish politics is a leaning towards Laissez Faire political economy private sector, a good engine, rolling out new policies and a load of catch phrases that are generally to the detriment of the less well off. And people are fearful of slipping down the rungs of the social ladder, so the devil take the hindmost is gaining support.

Comment by michael dunne on March 4, 2016 at 1:59pm

Hi Geraldine,

Please accept that I never said "this is common behavior still in Ireland!" If you got this impression then I think perhaps you misunderstand. I worked as a Garda in Dublin for thirty years. In that time I have encountered some hard cases of various family abuses, and realize how fortunate I have been not to be one of the sorry statistics. In one of the areas I served in, when we met with the typical domestic dispute, the children would be taken to Nuns living among these poor people.As Gardai, we would ask them to look after the children until more suitable accommodation could be found. Sometimes these children were hungry lice infected and incontinent. They would be left there, sometimes for weeks,  for the nuns to look after as there was always a problem in finding suitable accommodation. After a number of years of this abuse, the nuns reluctantly stopped answering the knock at the door at ungodly hours of the night. Nuns are great people. Many clergymen and Christian Brothers are also the salt of the earth and it is acknowledged by a lot of Irish people the debt of gratitude we owe them. After all they did accept the role of educators of our youth and helped in caring for the sick. We were not in a position to cherish all of the children equally or indulge the lofty notions of classical secular education.

The provision of necessary and suitable accommodation is now dealt with under the provisions of a "place of safety" Order. It was a major problem twenty five years ago and may still be today. At one time medical evidence from an examining hospital authority could only be released with the permission of the parent (s). Sadly it was frequently the parent of parents who were the prime suspects.

We are still a fledgling state (tiger or no tiger) The resources required to deal with drugs, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, prison reform etc are always being examined through various commissions. As a nation we are too quick in our rush to justice. We could do well to remember that Ireland had the lowest marriage rates in Europe in the 19th Century. We are deeply conservative in protocols, dowrys etc. The clergy had to deal with the associated doctrines of large families and inadequate opportunity for employment and education. Sexual frustration fed into much of what is wrong even today. Perhaps I am angry that we are only taking a sectional view of our own people. To think of our children being raised and educated for export like cattle might cloud ones judgement. Ironically Britain in keeping with its laissez faire politics and to continue the policies of relief of congestion under the Land Commission, granted the newly formed Irish State 30,000,000 pounds sterling to continue these policies. So even today it is arguable whether our government are more concerned with 'fiscal space' and GNP than the thousands of our people leaving our shores or the lack of meaningful employment. 


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