24 May 2007

Deliver Us from Evil

Now that I've watched Deliver Us from Evil, I only have only one more movie to go—Iraq in Fragments—before I've seen all five nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category of the 2006 Academy Awards. I'm passionate about feature documentaries and try to see as many of them as I can each year, but I rarely get to watch them in theaters: were it not for Netflix, I don't think I could stoke my passion for this art form. However, the theatrical documentary has grown considerably in box-office exposure and power in recent years: Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins, and An Inconvenient Truth (the 2006 winner for Best Documentary Feature) all had major success in theaters. I hope the trend continues.

Deliver Us from Evil is another powerhouse documentary that should have gotten wider exposure. It easily makes my list for the best movies of 2006. Like the other "children and religion" documentary in the Oscar category, Jesus Camp, this movie is far more frightening and upsetting than any horror movie in my recent memory. Television producer Amy Berg directed this film that follows the case of former priest Oliver O'Grady, who continually molested children (the interview subjects estimate the number of victims around a hundred, with the youngest nine months old) from 1976 onward while the Catholic Church covered up his actions and moved him around from parish to parish to keep his actions hidden. The film is especially damning to future Archbishop of Los Angeles Roger Mahony. The documentary eventually broadens to include the entire Catholic Priest sexual abuse scandal that has exploded to attention in recent years. Thomas Doyle, a priest who leads a battle with the victims and their families to stop the cover-up, turns into the hero of the story at the conclusion and at least gives hope that the people who have had their lives ruined will receive some redress, some form of contrition from the Church. It doesn't look likely however—but their fight is inspiring.

This is a very upsetting film, and a few sequences are literally gut-wrenching and had me in tears. O'Grady is extensively interviewed in Ireland, where he lives a free man after serving half of his fourteen-year sentence in the U.S. On camera he's a genial and avuncular figure, "the very image of what we thought a Catholic priest should be," the mother of one of the victims says. It rapidly becomes clear how deeply mentally ill the man is as he describes his actions in a calm, clinical way. In his video deposition, the examiner brings up the possibility that O'Grady suffers from a dissociative disorder, and based on the manner in which O'Grady discusses his actions, this makes complete sense. The man needs to be institutionalized, treated, and kept away from children at all costs. Yet the Church, fully aware of his record, let him roam around central California, prowling parish to parish, where he actively pursued more victims. And that's where the "evil" of the title truly appears.

The stories of the victims who agreed to take part in the documentary are harrowing. Now adults, they have never fully recovered from the persistent sexual abuse, often flat-out rape, they received from Oliver O'Grady. But the film's most searing moment comes from Bob Jyono, the father of one of the victims, Anne. A sweet-faced old man, a Japanese-American who married a sweet-faced Irish woman, and probably someone who never hated anybody in his life, he explodes in a mix of rage and sorrow as he relives the moment his adult daughter finally revealed to him what O'Grady had done to her when she was a little girl. The image of Mr. Jyono's tears and anger ("He molested my daughter—no he raped my daughter! When she was five years old!") is something I will never erase from my mind.

Bob Jyono. His wife Maria is at the far left.