Monday, April 18, 2011

Deliver Us from Evil

We’re almost charmed when we first meet ex-priest, Oliver O’Grady, now living in Ireland and awaiting a Vatican pension thanks in part to a President Bush pardon. He’s a gnomish, easily smiling senior with mischievous blue eyes. His soft tenor voice enjoys a melodious Celtic lilt.

Even as he talks about how he’s always liked children, the younger the better, and especially naked, even as we learn that he’s raped hundreds of them--from one-year-olds to grizzled tweens--for over twenty years, the disconnect between this gentle old coot and his crimes persists.

Then director Amy Berg presents us with a psychologist who stresses the need for a thought experiment. She says we need to walk through the reality of a grown man’s genitals being forced into the tiny aperture of an infant’s.

And so denial dissolves: in Deliver Us from Evil, we are dealing with the lowest form of human monstrosity as Berg etching a synergistic relationship between O’Grady and a Church gone lousy with criminal indifference and contempt for its customers, that deals with its shadow side, as a victim’s lawyer says, with "deception, denial and deceit from the highest levels".

Berg uses her experience at CNN and on 60 Minutes to give us a dry, damning-fact-laden accounting. Known as Father Ollie to his parishioners and victims alike, O'Grady--sometimes almost whimsically--narrates his adventures during the 70s and 80s.

He thinks back to the good times--raping children at one parish and then being moved by the Church to another to rape children there.

Berg’s unearthed DA video interview footage reveals a Cardinal Roger Mahoney--still Archbishop of Los Angeles--and doddering Pope Benedict--once in charge of investigating priestly abuse--showing no remorse, none, zero, zip, as they equivocate, cling to legal minutia, or brazenly lie about their complicity in Ollie’s crimes.

Worse is the prevalent Church view that pedophilia isn’t all that big a deal--a big deal would be homosexual sex between consenting adults.

The shredded heart of Berg’s film belongs to a core group of survivors--Nancy Sloan, Ann Jyono and Adam M.

In the film’s most horrific intersection, Adam, a handsome, clenched jaw, emo sort of guy, revisits the place where O’Grady raped and sodomized him as a kid.

A few minutes later, O’Grady recalls doing so with not much more than a shrug.

Ms. Jyono’s story is godawful not just for the unimaginable suffering the degenerate directly inflicted on her, but in how those crimes spread, cancer-like, to her entire family.

Ms. Jyono’s an attractive professional nearing forty and fearful that the spiritual scar tissue left from her priest’s acts will leave her unable to ever have a relationship, ever.

Jyono’s immigrant Japanese father recalls how a holy Church was part of his American dream.

And so he allowed Father Ollie into his home, where the priest seduced and fucked his wife.

It's no hyperbole to say that the tension becomes almost unbearable as we wait for the inevitable, precisely because we know it's inevitable: kindly Father Ollie, then actually living with the Jyono family, raping his child at age five.

When Mr. Jyono finally reaches this ultimate betrayal, this reserved man completely falls to pieces, weeping, cursing himself, the Church and God.

With the exception of some new footage of a meditative O’Grady at church--meant, one supposes, to evoke the mystery of the creature in its natural habitat, but which ends up feeling intrusively cinematic--Berg maintains her properly detached tone throughout, enhanced only by mournful, liturgical songs by Nick Cave and Joseph Arthur.

Berg seems to slip on the side of saccharine as the survivors engage in a sort of group therapy, but that view promptly evaporates when we see O’Grady composing a letter to the survivors suggesting they all fly to Ireland for a salving group confab.

To which Adam suggests his ex-pastor go fuck himself. And amen to that. Unfortunately, the institution that made O’Grady’s crimes possible is still at large and unaccountable.

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