Denmark, 2012, Thomas Vinterberg’s film The Hunt is released. It told the story of how a town is shocked after a four-year-old girl confusingly insinuates to the school’s principal that one of the teachers, Lucas, has behaved inappropriately. This triggers a parade of adults who cannot hold their own as parents and embark on a fierce hunt against the alleged abuser. They never doubt. Indeed, in the midst of such a scenario, it’s no coincidence that the very same woman who throws up on hearing an allusion to semen is the one who shouts: “Children never lie!”
Massachusetts again, 2015, the setting of Spotlight, a film directed by Thomas McCarthy tells a similar tale regarding the sexual abuse of minors, but this time the situation is the reverse of the one in Salem: the accusers cannot make themselves heard; they are directed to the wrong places and people; they are silenced; the cases are put off; their accusations produce no response.
Spotlight deals with a real-life story uncovered by the Boston Globe in which the abusers were priests from the Boston archdiocese, one of the most powerful in the U.S.A., where the Catholic Church had social influence and, therefore, managed to bribe officials, negotiate with the media, and hire the best attorneys.
Both in Salem Witch Trials and in The Hunt we can see that segregation is always a step ahead of the “Human Condition”, but, in addition, it can be noted that when the reference of the Other is lost, ethics boards’ judgment seems to resort to children as guarantors of truth. That’s why both stories, despite belonging to different times, show the modern subject’s helplessness.
Spotlight goes one step beyond in every sense: not even the children are credible; the accumulation of cases is not important; everything is held up, timely stopped, conveniently silenced, as long as money circulates to pay for those favors.
In the middle of the story, one of the victims—already an adult— tells the journalist from the Boston Globe about his state of paralysis when a priest abused him during his childhood: “How do you say no to God?” Clearly, if a priest can do such a thing, what refuge is left? The press? Hollywood maybe? Has show business become the Other of hypermodernity?
Spotlight won the best picture Oscar of 2015. In accepting the award in front of a 35-million television audience, Michael Sugar, one of the producers, addressed the Vatican directly: “Pope Francis, it’s time to protect children and restore the faith.” I cannot think of a more up-to-date image for Nietzsche nor of a more ironic picture of contemporary helplessness.