Film Review: Spotlight

Film Review: Spotlight

Rating: M
Release Date: January 28th, 2016.

When you’re invited to a film screening whose synopsis reads, “…journalists investigate allegations against an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys,” you know a) this isn’t a popcorn flick, and b) the church might be in for a mud slinging match.

Based on The Boston Globe’s 2001 inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church and undisclosed child molestation cases, SPOTLIGHT follows one of the most notable recent religious scandals. A team of journalist’s work to prove systemic dysfunction caused the cover up, attempting to bring justice to all involved. Having worked hard to keep its issues behind closed doors, the church is center stage in a modern newsroom mystery.

In the testimony of one victim, we’re told abuse wasn’t just physical and mental – it was spiritual. Wayward priests stole the faith of youth. Priests’ horrific crimes “sullied the place that would have been a solace”, destroying victims’ foundational relationships with the divine. Distrust was produced in them for authority, along with ‘godly’ leadership.

Confronting brokenness caused by scandalous misconduct, Catholics (and all Christians) are encouraged to ask: does our faith rest on a fleeting institution, or an infinite God? The church is not only responsible for criminal accusations, but for spiritual trauma inflicted on its members. Are we misplacing our trust?

If our faith rests wholly on institutionalized church, I would say, “Yes.” Christ’s description of the church is as His ‘hands and feet’, His body. The church He came to build is intended to be an expression of His love on earth. Carrying the gospel message into all cultures, displaying His will for humanity. Separate that mantle from its chief Cornerstone, and you have disempowered members. Man’s fallibility leads, and our failings hinder salvation. ‘Church’ becomes nothing more than a gathering, and our impact is diluted.

Our imperfections and failings bring change only when they’re submitted to God, and covered (forgiven, redeemed, transformed, re-assigned) by His grace. He is where our faith should lie. He is where our salvation comes from. Not from those who are His hands and feet, and not from the institutions that house them.

For victims of these heinous crimes and churchgoers globally, “I’m sorry” and “we all make mistakes”, are undeniably weak excuses. Poor judgment and lack of restraint are no consolation for such personal violation. However if opportunity is to be found in unfolding their stories, it’s in audience’s ability to reassess the anchor of their faith, and churches to reconsider their role. As presenter Stephen Colbert said, “It’s a terrible story for the church, but the only way for the church to heal is for the truth to be known.

SPOTLIGHT deserves any credit it receives for preferring journalistic integrity to salaciousness, and thoughtful dialogue to haphazard mud fights. It’s a pure picture of what Hollywood taking on the church can do.


High point: Seeing Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) make investigative journalism look more exciting than life itself.

Low point: Realising the scope of the scandal, and knowing victims stories are true.

Best digested with: Don’t eat, just watch.

Photo: Laura Bennett

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