“THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT”–compelling and beautiful horror

“THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT”

Compelling and Beautiful Horror

Amos Lassen

I recently rediscovered this gem of a film which was originally made for Canadian television and I was surprised it didn’t resurface when we went through that period of the abuses of the Roman Catholic church.

“The Boys of St. Vincent” (New Yorker Films) is about a group of men who return the Newfoundland Catholic boys’ orphanage where they were forced to endure undue acts of sexual exploitation and mental abuse by the priests that ran the home. It is a fictional—based on truth—account of what went on these men’s lives when they were brutalized by a bunch of priests and it is explicit. Fifteen years later these very men banded together to bring charges against the men who abused them. The film is quite long, clocking in at four hours but there is not a dull moment. It is divided into two parts wth part one showing the orphanage and part two is about what appened to the men when they became adults.

Even though the story is somewhat standard, it still needed to be told and the filmis an amazing acoount of this horrible misue of religion. These kids lived through hell. I found it to be a bit overwhelming to watch at times and the performance of Henry Czerny is an indelible, deeply thoughtful performance and he is a class of male actors who are defined by their roles. It is a chilling performance.

Events that are shown are not for the squeamish and there were times when I had to look away from the film and say to myself, “this did not happen” but we, unfortunately, know that it did. Watching these men deal with their adult lives after having had such a childhood, hurt at times. This is not the kind of movie that you can say you liked. It is that hard hitting; but it is the kind of movie you will not soon forget. Czerny’s portrait of the Catholic brother is chilling and he is  a pedophile monster.It is hard to understand how he could do so much damage to so many and show no remorse.

The movie, which, like I said, is based on actual events but in the introduction, we are informed that the screenplay disguises the events included.  When the story of the abuse finaly surfaces, 15 years after the happenings, it is incredible to see how many agencies band together to keep the news from reaching the public. According to the information I have managed to glean about the incidents pictures, it seems that in the 1970s the scandal began to develop and when several of the boys went public, their complaints were buried by the police, government officials, and the senior clergy of the church. Worse than that was the conspiracy to shut down the investigation and transfer the offending priests to other parishes. What ultimately happened and cause the issue to come to light was when the pattern suddenly, right in the middle of the hush-up, the abuse began anew.

The movie is almost a horror film in the way it so graphically shows what went on in the orphanagr. The first half—“Tales of the Orphanage” is extremely disturbing and part two which takes place fifteen years later wrecks the mind with the gut wrenching stories and incredible performances. The main focus, on Brother Lavin (Czerny) is a study of evil. He is a truly dangerous pedophile who uses his position to sate his desires while looking the other way regarding the abuse of the children by other members of the clergy. He allows it all to happen and then to continue happening. Lavin left the church when the scandal broke and became a respected businessman, a husband and a father of two sons and then the scandal broke.

The most impressive accomplishment of the film is the way the director, John Smith, balanced a stance by which he does not attack the Catholic Church as an institution as he relentlessly exposes the corruption within it. As painful as this movie is, I cannot but recommend it strongly. Every responsible adult should try to see it not only for its mastery and artistry but for the warning it offers. Considering that it was made in 1991 and several waves of abuse in the church have surfaced since then, I am forced to say that not enough people have seen it and heeded what it says.

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