Spotlight focuses on the investigative team of The Boston Globe as they uncover the systemic child sex abuse by RC priests in the Boston area. The fact that this was a Pulitzer winning story is just a tiny aspect of it. In times of religious debate and sexual violence, this story is a grim reminder of out historical attitude towards issues that really plague our society.
The movie begins with the arrival of the new editor (Liev Schreiber) who is immediately seen as an outsider and a Jew, known for making staff cuts in his previous organizations. He brings the unnoticed story of an abusive priest to the attention of the Spotlight team. What is striking is that their reaction is unanimous – You want to sue the church? It is evident that this is a religious society that does not like the authority of God (and in extension, his men) challenged. As the story unfolds, you realize that the history of sexual exploitation has been viewed as shameful to such an extent that the continuing loss of dignity associated with it will last long even in modern society. It is shocking to see how many people turned a blind eye towards these acts in the name of God and all the good work done by the Roman Catholic Church. Is it really that simple? Can you really ignore the rotten eggs in favor of those who managed to do some good? Is their no price for loss of innocence? It all comes down to power, doesn’t it? What you witness in this story is the systematic denial of all charges filed against abusive priests even in the light of hard evidence. But what is beyond disgusting is the fact that the higher ranks were aware of the wrongdoings in their own yard and they relocated the priests instead of removing them from positions of power! Under the guise of sick leave and emergency absence, these priests were moved around and reassigned to parishes where they continued to abuse children. The statistics are staggering; as much as 6% of the priests are believed to be abusive. Simple math brings that number to 90 in the Boston area, and the Spotlight team manages to identify 87 of them. That number multiplied by the average number of victims per priest makes you cringe. If that doesn’t hit you with the depravity of the sexual violence, in a scene Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews an accused priest who admits to the charges against him but rationalizes thus – “It was only molestation. I didn’t rape anyone. You have to understand that it doesn’t count because I didn’t get any gratification from it.” Everything from unsealing court documents to fighting parishioners who don’t want the name of the church smeared, this is a story that goes beyond just unraveling a big scoop. Mark Ruffalo in his portrayal of Michael Rezendes is fantastic when it comes to the range of his emotions. It breaks your heart when you see the reflection of your own relationship with God in his words – “I lapsed but I thought I could go back some day. But now I can’t, knowing what I know.”
Spotlight released in India recently and it is very likely that it won’t last long in the cinema halls given that Neerja (which I hear is good) and its commercially successful competitors are vying for slots. It has been nominated for 3 Academy Awards – Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Ruffalo) and Actress in a Supporting Role (McAdams). While my choice in the first category would be Bridge of Spies, I think Mark Ruffalo stands a very good chance of winning. Overall, I recommend watching this tightly written and well directed movie.