It was the year 2002, when ‘Boston Global’ newspaper started its series of articles on the protection of pedophile priests by The Church. This was published by them after a lot of hardcore journalism – which was carried out by the ‘Spotlight’ team, then led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson. Their story put out to the people what the Church was hiding, that it knew about this behaviour of their priests, and all they did was hush up the victims by providing them cold water – and after the first story was published, around a 1000 victims shared their story too. They even won the Pulitzer prize for their investigative journalism in 2003 .That was a huge step towards the impact of real journalism in the society.
The Academy’s Best Picture this year, ‘Spotlight’, presents to us this story. What is amazing about this film is the focus and sincerity of the makers to give us, in detail and with detail – the events that move us, and for moments, leave us in deep introspection. “It takes a village to raise a kid or abuse one“. So powerful. Children, small children, from poor and scarred backgrounds were physically abused by someone they believed was a messiah. People who have power do this, they know about it and then they cover it up! The worse was that the Boston Globe had already covered the molestations. This was about how the system protected such priests and instead tried to rub off things, erase documents and instances and come to negotiations with the victims. Negotiations!
This abusing happened systematically. I even read that there was something called as ‘Catholic Confession’ where the priest confesses to another that he raped a child and the wrong was forgiven, forgiven! Our children, fresh and happy, and innocent – oh, what kind of an shock can it have? We are not living in a painting – its reality.
Just before the credits, there comes on screen, a list of places where such kinds of abuses have been uncovered – the very list bugs us – it is very long and I searched for India! A nine year old girl was abused by a priest in Ollur, Kerala. But, unlike the Cardinal there, our Arch Diocese ousted the priest from Church. But this is not just about the Church, is it? – it is child abuse. Tender souls ripped – and the ripples heard for eternity. We read, everyday in our newspapers about so many cases of child abuse. Our people harassing our children. We also know about it, what are we doing? It feels so guilty.
The film is a very sensitive and realistic portrayal – it is focused and driven. It spotlights on the investigation and presents to us the story how it is – without manipulation of melodrama. At the same time, it does not lose the cinematic touch. The simple scenes become so profound and gripping. Michael Keaton as Walter Robbinson, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll are the ‘Spotlight’ team. Along with the other cast, they give a brilliant, restraint and natural performance that is in line with the film. They bring in the mannerisms, the wisdom, discretion and integrity of journalists. Without any hidden agendas against any institution, they only work for the cause. It should have been very difficult, and might have even caused mental disharmony investigating this case. Because each layer they dug in, it only got bigger and bigger. It was natural shock and disgust to even them. Michael even bursts emotionally somewhere near the ending – and it just explains one thing – they really cared – it wasn’t a news item to raise their ratings. None of their personal stories are covered, because it was not essential – it is only told with subtlety. Mitchell Garabedian , played by Stanley Tucci, the attorney who work for the victims, is another character I deeply respect – his commitment was very inspiring. He has really good dialogues, especially in the end, when he says, “Keep…doing your work Mr. Rezendes” and then the comforting “…hello” to the molested kids, ah, I couldn’t resist the tear.
Much credit must go to the director, Tom McCarthy, also the co-scriptwriter. The page to screen transition, the use of normal colours and clear cinematography – it supplements the film’s tone and structure – brings out the journalistic style to the product. And not one actor made a wrong move – great direction! I was just thinking what all could have been added to make this more thick and emotional – melancholic score, thriller type punches here and there, high emotional moments – no, none of them were used and that’s a plus point. It rather has good speed, the right amount of drama, and intelligent non-showy dialogues – they are journalists, they know their words!
The deepest themes of this film was journalism, true journalism – that is losing its stand, day by day. The effective creative force that covers the society and has the power to undo wrong and overthrow evil. The film ends with the dialogue “This is Spotlight.” when people are calling them to share their story. They published around 600 stories and cases of 249 priests were uncovered. The collective impact it had on the people was huge! They did the right – even when more than half their subscribers were Catholic, even when they knew that they would be telling a harsh truth.
There is a dialogue in the film by the editor – “…make this paper essential for its readers…” This is journalism – there is news, not opinions. It’s a story, not a hot cake. It is truth, not an exaggerated fantasy – and it is for the cause, not for ratings. It is a medium, not a brand. Look at the ‘Spotlight’ team – no vested interests, no “Oh, come on, let’s publish this today and make it breaking!”. It was a teamwork that used its time and resources to bring about a change in the society. My grandfather was a journalist too. I was reminded of him receiving the TSR award, given for investigative journalism in our state, for uncovering and articulating the plight of bonded labourers and their women, who were harassed by the owners, at a village in Maharashtra. There were many like him during his times. Now, we have uncovering too – unfortunately, not the ones we need.
My hopes are high – that the media will grow more profound in our country – reporting the right things, and that films like these shall roll. Nothing in this film was shouting for an award – it was an acknowledgment of the story, complex and poignant in all terms. Like the ‘Spotlight’ team which worked with honesty, the film- ‘Spotlight’ team only did their best. That is master class film making.