Here is grist for our angry friends who believed that Spotlight didn’t go far enough in conveying the sorrow, pain, and evil of Catholic priests guilty of raping innocent children, or of the Church’s sinister role in covering up for these patently horrible men.
Set in Argentina on a dreary-skied beach town, the story concerns a house of penance where priests guilty of molestation and other crimes live with a woman we presume to be a nun as house supervisor. First, their cozy situation is interrupted by a traumatic incident, and then it is turned upside-down by a Catholic Church counselor who believes himself to be representative of what he calls “the new Church.”
Pablo Larrain, the political-minded director who made No (he also produced the underappreciated Crystal Fairy and the Magic Cactus), has made a movie that lets no one walk away with unstained hands. The first image is of a man with a fishing rod running a dog in helpless circles on the beach, and if the critic inside you guesses you are being pummeled with symbolism, relax, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The length and breadth of Larrain’s investigation keeps expanding the nature of what constitutes “the club.” The dog, we realize, is running in terrifying and enlarging circles: A community, a nation of sinners who began life with nothing but holiness on their minds.
Heavy-handed? Probably. But the sad stories we overhear make up the best part of this film. A young man spots an older man getting out of a car of his molester and falls off the deep end remembering every outrage and every justification the priest used to seduce and quiet him. The nun’s story reminds us that people can simply drift into meaninglessness and despair. Maybe it isn’t a masterpiece, and certainly it isn’t evenhanded either. The perpetrators here supply loads of self-justification. They’ve forgiven themselves and the movie makes it clear, there’s no reason for us to join the pity party.