Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Special Delivery

All kinds of changes afoot in work, life, music and everything. Have no idea how to begin to make sense of all I've wanted to write about over the past week or so. Have planned like 30 posts and then ditched them out of fatigue or a variety of procrastinatory excuses. It's always best, I've found, to start w/ an enumeration, so here goes:

1) Saw a really outstanding movie over the weekend: Deliver Us from Evil. I remember reading about this last year or the year before when it was playing in New York; intended to go but missed it.

I love watching documentaries. For whatever reason, I *really* love watching documentaries about outlandish or disturbing topics. (I remember I felt sort of weird telling the world that I was fascinated by the horse-ophilia doc Zoo last May.) Fortunately Laal shares this affinity. On Friday, we rented Gray Matter, a film by Joe Berlinger, most famous for codirecting Some Kind of Monster, a.k.a. "The Metallica in Therapy Doc," a.k.a. one of the most enthralling movies about music or anything else that I've ever seen. To put it as plainly as I can, Gray Matter is about a basement in an abandoned Austrian hospital where until a few years ago brains of mentally or physically handicapped children euthanized by a sadistic Nazi doctor were being kept. Sounds pretty fascinating, right? It was... sort of. The film suffered from too much Berlinger. His persistent voiceover demystified the topic. I couldn't help feeling that it was a blown opportunity to make a mindblowing doc.

Maybe the main problem with it, though, was one of access. Not to spoil it for anyone--well, okay, maybe for some--but Berlinger never gets his man, i.e., Heinrich Gross, the doctor responsible for the institutionalized murders discussed in the film, who was still alive and apparently living in or around Vienna at the time Berlinger was filming there. The whole time you're thinking how fascinating it would be to view Gross up close, to scrutinize the man who had done such horrible deeds.

Well, Deliver Us from Evil is the exact opposite scenario: The villain is not only present, he's the star of the film. By the time we meet him, sometime in the early aughts, Father Oliver O'Grady (above) has sexually abused countless children in various cities in California and has been apprehended. By some weird Catholic-church loophole, he's living as a free man in his native Ireland. So not only do you get glimpses, you get a veritable vista of this guy's deviant consciousness. Hannibal Lecter, blah, blah, blah. We're talking about extensive face time with a man who, as a psychologist interviewed in the film points out, has--and please pardon the graphic-ness here--"actually inserted his penis into an infant's vagina."

There's no other way to say this: He comes across as a mild, kindly man. His demeanor could be described as gently remorseful, calmly perplexed, confused by his deeds, as though they were sort of a curious conundrum, to be pondered but not to be reflected upon urgently. There is no sense of a man really grappling with his actions and their effects in any sort of wrenching way. At times there's almost a sense of amusement at what he's done (namely raped children; many, many, many children, some over a period of years). The rhythm of the film, its method, is to contrast O'Grady's seemingly untroubled consciousness with scenes from the lives of his victims and their families, who can only be described as existing in state of devastation, not unlike victims of a natural disaster.

Bob Jyono, whose young daughter was raped repeatedly by O'Grady over a period of years--she claims, in one of the film's saddest moments, that she didn't tell anyone b/c she was worried her father would kill O'Grady--is the film's moral center of gravity and a scathing counterweight to O'Grady. Simply put the dude is a wreck, or at least he is when discussing the crimes themselves. I've rarely seen a more straightforward depiction of sad, sad rage than this man's testimony. Screaming anger mixed with tears and raw, raw hurt and regret and disillusionment. This is just a straight-up wronged soul. It's a horribly painful thing to watch and the contrast w/ O'Grady's untroubled, beady-eyed recollections is almost too much to comprehend. Jyono is all tears and hoarse venom. O'Grady is a frequent grinner, a wearer of cardigans--again, a kindly old man, it seems. In short--and this is the fucked-up thing--you totally *get* why families would have trusted him in the first place. He couldn't come across as any LESS threatening.

In the special features, though, the predator comes out. I would not recommend that anyone who spooks easily watch this, but there's an excerpt from his deposition in wihch he actually does a role-playing exercise where he *talks to the camera as if it were a child he was priming for sexual abuse.* Coaxing, smiling, coaxing, soothing. "Sally, you know how much I like you right? Can I give you a hug?" I'm not sure I've ever seen a more unflinching glimpse into a disturbed mind.

Laal and I watched Capturing the Friedmans a few weeks back. That's also a remarkable, remarkable film, but totally different, dealing as it does with a question mark of guilt. If you're not familiar with that one, it's a portrait of a family torn apart when the father and his teenage son are accused of pedophilia. The evidence is sketchy and while the film doesn't take outright sides, it does view the case against the Friedmans with an extremely skeptical eye.

There's nothing to be skeptical about in Deliver Us. Oliver O'Grady without a dobut did these things and director Amy Berg takes us into his presence on a very extended basis. There's a lot of fascinating context and analysis in the film re: the clergy-sexual-abuse epidemic in general. We learn for example that priests weren't always celibate and that celibacy was a bureaucratic imposition designed to keep priests from passing property on to children. The psychologist consulted in the film systematically assails the idea of celibacy and pegs it as practically a direct cause of these horrible occurrences. Another priest consulted in the film, Thomas Doyle, stands out as an almost heroically individualistic man, advocating for "good Catholics" in the model of Jesus Christ: not sheep, but revolutionaries. Again, though, it's all secondary. See this film and you will sit across the table from a serial pedophile and have a chat. It's a type of experience few of us will ever have in life, and the awful rarity of it makes it in some weird sense a priceless encounter.

This movie and Friedmans--in which the most tangible evidence against the father is that he hoarded child-pornography magazines--made me think though: If someone is inclined toward pedophilia, isn't it better that they look at child pornography rather than actually committing the act? Or is that just as bad, given that children were harmed in the making of the pornography?

To take it a little further, what is a person supposed to do if they find themselves with a sexual preference that's not only deviant, but unlawful and potentially horribly destructive? Obviously we can all control our actions, but we don't really get to choose our desires; nor can we make them go away if we'd rather not experience them. I guess what I'm getting at is I'd be curious to hear about a person who had perhaps "cured" themselves of pedophilia through sheer will or treatment or somesuch, i.e., as though an individual had turned him- or herself in, like, "I have these desires; I need help." I suppose that is the only "right" way to handle it, but it's pretty near impossible to imagine having your inner fantasies doubling as awful liabilities. Maybe the preference is borne out of abuse or out of traumatic circumstance, but what if it's not? What if it's innate and subconscious, as I imagine garden-variety hetero- or homosexuality to be? Basically I'd like to hear from someone who's just realizing these truths about him- or herself and--unlike the terminally irresponsible Father O'Grady--is actually trying to nip them in the bud. *That* would make for a fascinating corollary to Deliver Us from Evil.

Well, that was a long item No. 1. Here are a few more:

2) As reported in Time Out NY, I very much enjoyed Haruki Murakami's new nonfiction tome, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Having religiously read most of Murakami's novels, I had lost track of the last few, but after I read an excerpt from this in the New Yorker, I was back on track. Outstanding stuff.

3) I've been on a long, steadily arcing Tony Oxley listening kick ever since I caught him with Cecil a few weeks back. More on Oxley to come...

1 comment:

Matt said...

Hank, yes! Thank you for posting about Deliver Us From Evil. I saw this movie either on Sundance or IFC - basically the only two channels I watch when I watch TV. Your paragraph about him coming off completely mild-mannered is spot-on. This is a must see for anyone in America or anywhere who has any doubt about this whole choir boys scandal which seems to have quietly died down of late. I guess I'm lucky I grew up Jewish!