‘Spotlight’ and the Virtue of Hopelessness

Alex Duke | November 28, 2015


Spotlight begins with a short phrase on a black-and-white screen: “Based on actual events.” It ends with another black-and-white screen and an unrelenting list of cities: San Diego, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Santiago, Chile; Sydney, Australia—it keeps going. In every one of these few hundred places, Roman Catholic priests molested children.

There’s an entire movie between these black-and-white screens—and a mighty fine one at that—but these simple bookends stick with you. After all, the cities represent every victim and their unimaginable grief, every perpetrator and their unimaginable corruption, hubris, lust, turpitude, whatever. Sometimes words fail.

There could be reels of film made about each place and its stories. This one in particular is about an intrepid group of Boston Globe reporters (the “Spotlight” team) who over the course of several months uncover the systemic sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children at the—I tremble to finish the phrase—hands of 249 Boston-area priests. The abuse is heinous; the concomitant cover-up is, too—from lawyers just doing their job to cardinals just trying to protect their flock to family members saying what would people think and it can’t really be true. Tom McCarthy’s film is straightforward and even-handed, balancing carefully the weightiness of its content with the…


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