iron man
now what

deliver us from evil (amy berg, 2006)

Deliver Us from Evil was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar last year, which meant it had no chance of winning (the competition included An Inconvenient Truth). Deliver Us from Evil is a much more angry film than was the Oscar winner. The victims in Al Gore's movie were all of us, or the environment, or life itself … heady stuff to be sure, but somewhat impersonal. The victims in Deliver Us from Evil are men and women who were molested as children by Catholic priests, and we get to learn much about a few of those people and their families. There is nothing impersonal about the spoken testimony of an abuse victim, nothing impersonal about the anger of a father who screams in tears, "he's not a pedophile, he's a rapist!" And, since director Amy Berg convinced one of the rapist priests to be interviewed, there is nothing impersonal about him, either … he comes across as a kindly Irishman, which over the course of the film makes him clueless at best and evil at worst.

The enemy in Berg's film isn't the priest, nor is it religious belief. The enemy is the institution of the Catholic Church, which is presented as covering up the destruction of children's lives while making a case that in Catholic theology as interpreted by the Church, pedophilia by priests is "just another sin" to be confessed away (behind closed doors, of course). The hold that the church has on its members is made clear by the conflicted nature of the victims' responses to their religious feelings as an adult … since, for instance, when the priest gives communion he's representing the great power above, clergy pedophilia is like being raped by God. There is a desire to maintain a connection, however small, to the meaning religion must have held at one point in these people's lives. When one victim's father angrily admits that after all that has happened, he no longer believes in God, the victim herself bursts into tears, as if this was the final straw in a long life of back-breaking.

An Inconvenient Truth is a fine movie, and I know it's a stretch to call it a "feel-good" movie when the tale of environmental destruction is so bleak. But you come away from that film thinking that if we just changed our priorities, we could still turn a corner on that destruction. Deliver Us from Evil offers no such hope … religion has always been with us, institutionalized religion has been around for a long time as well, and it's hard to imagine a change in priorities so great that the global populace could finally break free of religion's chains.


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