MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
In one of the apostle Paul’s letters, he encourages believers to “bear one another burdens and fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2)
This merciful act is at the heart of Procession, a new documentary by Robert Greene. The six men who are at the center of this film have great burdens to share: they were all sexually abused by priests as children. While there have been many documentaries that have enumerated the decades of institutional denial and protection of the abusers (and also the fact-based 2015 film Spotlight), there have been fewer films that reflect upon the lifelong aftershocks of childhood trauma.
Procession documents a project in which six men agree to work with a drama therapist who will guide them in reenactments of their past. The aim is to move them from being victims of trauma toward a place of empowerment. The men will help write the scripts for these short films and will also star in each other’s depictions (some will be portraying priests).
The filmmakers are very much aware of the possibilities for exploitation of controversial and upsetting remembrances. The men will be free to decide how much of themselves will be revealed and can opt out at any time. The process will also include scouting out locations for filming that are geographically close to where the abuse took place. A child actor is hired (with the accompaniment of his parents) to be a stand-in for men in these short trauma dramas.
All of these men are battered and broken. Their childhood has been irrevocably scarred by the events of the past. For them the church is identified as a place of great harm where they were betrayed by priests who used their authority to inflict great harm. Faith in God is virtually non-existent.
The longer the process continues, the more pain is shared. (In many instances disbarred but unsentenced priests die of old age for crimes committed over fifty years ago.)
If you can tolerate a high level of emotional brokenness, you will find yourself entering into a place of mutual compassion and care. As we get to know these men by name (Mike, Michael, Ed, Dan, Joe and Tom), we also get to experience them as individuals growing into a community of love and support. This is no small achievement, since they have experienced abandonment by the church and God. But they have a safe place where they can express their pain, their rage and their anger without judgement.
Procession is a tough watch, capable of breaking your heart but also offering up the possibilities for healing. It is one of the most memorable films of 2021 and a witness to how the light of God’s love can shine through in unexpected places.
Note: Procession never brings up salacious details (as might be seen in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) about sexual acts, but the emotional damage is always close to the surface. You may still choose to give this one a pass.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: The healing potential of shared pain and imaginative recovery create a unique and moving film.
Five pitchforks: Sexual abuse of children; hypocrisy; blasphemy of God in word and deed.
This film would have received five halos for its powerful scenes of empathy and compassion, but I did not want to give the impression that this is a zero-sum scenario; the pain and the hurt caused by religious authority figures leave scars that last a lifetime; these acts of abuse have turned millions away from the church.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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