We’ve never done any awards at Christian Entertainment Reviews. But if we did, even and especially accounting for worldview as well as artistic value, I just might side with the Academy on their pick for Best Picture.
To be fair, I’ve only seen roughly half of the Best Picture nominees, and at least one I’m not planning on seeing at all. But this is less an Oscars-related post and more the outgrowth of what has been an emotional two hours of film. The point really is this: Spotlight has some important stuff to say, and stuff that Christians need to be paying close attention to.
In case you’re out of the loop, Spotlight is a drama film starring, among others, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams, following the true story of The Boston Globe’s uncovering of a massive cover-up scandal involving Catholic priests molesting children. Baron (Leiv Schreiber) is an outsider who comes into the paper with fresh eyes in an attempt to save it from the economic crisis that many papers faced (and still face) that the explosion of the Internet caused. As part of this revival attempt, he turns to a story about a Catholic priest abusing a child – one that he thinks goes deeper, even though the rest of the paper is largely resistant to that.
It’s not too difficult to understand why. It’s an unpleasant topic, for one, but for another, Boston is a very Catholic town. Most everyone there, including the editorial staff, was raised Catholic, and as is commonly brought up in the film, the Church does a lot of good things, particularly for low income families and at-risk youth. So why ruffle more feathers than needed?
It may occur to anyone reading this that there’s an entire group of individuals left out in the previous paragraph: the victims. In fact, it’s really quite noteworthy that the victims are barely talked about in the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film. It’s a story, but seems like not much more. Then the Spotlight team, led by Robbie (Michael Keaton), takes the case. And it’s from there that, slowly, things start to unveil. Gradually, the victims get more attention until they are the very centerpiece of an extremely emotional scene executed extremely well by Ruffalo. But the fact that the victims get so little attention at the beginning is intentional – it signifies what the entire newsroom staff went through before this broke loose, and what happens all too often when these stories are revealed all the time in real life – we say ‘that’s too bad’ and move on. Because, no matter how unjust it seems and is, they just don’t strike us as real people, or at least as real as that guy sitting in the next booth at McDonald’s.
Everything about the film is executed well, but I want to highlight two main points that I think are especially relevant for twenty-first century Christians. The first is how easily we can be taken by apparently godly men (or women, for that matter). One of the victims says, “You have to understand that for a poor kid like me, it was like God talking to me.” While the film doesn’t contain any nudity or visual depictions of the abuse, the victims do recount the events in rather blunt terms, and it becomes abundantly clear that these are not just men who did some bad things. They are predators, clear and simple. To use the word that one of the survivors uses, they “groomed” these children for abuse, targeting the ones from broken homes, who are most likely to seek attention at any cost, then building slowly on that until the abuse is just one more step.
This isn’t pleasant to think about. But it is important to think about, because while protestant and evangelical Christians prefer to separate themselves from the Catholic church (and theologically, I do think that’s appropriate to do), the fact of the matter is that this still happens within conservative Bible-believing churches. And it’s worth some time to think about if we see any of the warning signs of this kind of behavior, whether we aren’t keeping silent for the same reasons: that they are or seem like “mostly good men” or that the church or this preacher “does a lot of good things.”
But there’s a second reason this is important as well. Mike (Mark Ruffalo) is probably the closest thing the film has to a main character, and he’s the most obviously passionate reporter about the case. While talking with one of the other reporters, he reveals that while like most of them, he was raised Catholic and had since stopped going, he had always planned on going back. But now, of course, he could never go back, not after seeing this level of corruption and abuse. In an emotional moment, he says “They took that from me!”
That raises the question how many would-be converts have been turned away from a source of the truth because of the corruption surrounding it. When we make excuses for sin because of who it is that’s sinning, how many continue further and deeper into their sin because of it? Some of that depends on your theology and your view of God’s providence, election, etc. But it’s nonetheless an important topic to consider.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be forgiving, even when there’s been some sort of corruption. But what the aforementioned situations do is overlook the victims for the sake of the offender, which is far from Christian. It is Christian to forgive, but it is not Christian to silence and ignore the victims. As Christians, we’re called on to defend the defenseless, and failing to see to the needs of the abused is a slap in the face to that tenet of Christianity.
So the film raises important issues. That’s not to say it’s perfect. At times attempts to look into the personal lives of the reporters seem contrived and distract from the main story. There’s also a very awkward children’s choir song at one point that seems almost tasteless given the topic at hand. Viewers should also be aware that the testimony of the victims is verbally graphic, and it does also contain some language (though that’s less of a concern than you might expect for an R-rated film). But even with those elements, I think Christians in particular have a lot to gain from this film. It is not a story that intends to demonize faith. Rather, it is a symapthetic dialogue focusing on the victims of abuse, and it points us to the actual facts as if to say then, “What now?”
Consensus: 9/10. It’s hardly the feel-good movie of the year, but it might be one of the most important, as well as a very poignant approach to a sensitive issue.