Okay, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but there is a little debate going on in the cinematic blogosphere.
It all started with THIS POST on the conservative film site Libertas. The post was basically about an article which looked askance at the latest Hollywood trend, especially in independent cinema, of stories centring on child abuse, and/or portraying child molesters in a sympathetic light.
Then came THIS POST at Cinematical condemning the last post, which then inspired THIS POST at Libertas, rebutting Cinematical.
But let's look at the issue at question, the cinematic portrayal of child abuse, and the sympathetic portrayal of child abusers, and what are the real roots of these films.
First, it starts with the nature of independent film. Profitable independent films like with Juno are rarer than hen's teeth because the words "crowd pleasing" and "independent" are two words that rarely meet these days. The market for independent films is increasingly centred around elite film festivals and the funding that attention at these festivals can generate.
In a way, it's a lot like the way the Canadian film industry is run.
But how did it get this way? Well let's start with a history lesson.
In the old days of independent "exploitation" cinema controversy was aimed to attract the general audience. These controversies involved sex, violence, and scary and "mature" situations.
Now these old-fashioned "exploitation" films and their sex & violence were never critical darlings. They weren't considered "serious" because they were aimed to appeal to teenagers in drive-ins, not people in a quest for an obvious social statement.
The rise of the "indie" film industry via festivals like Sundance in the 90s saw a plethora of films hitting festival screens. In fact, the indie film scene became as cutthroat as Hollywood, especially after the initial wave of 90s Sundance filmmakers went more or less mainstream. There were a lot more independent films being made, but fewer and more selective outlets for them.
To stand out among all the other films about suburban ennui you needed a hook, something to attract attention, like controversy.
Now you couldn't use old fashioned sex and violence involving consenting adults. That would be too Hollywood, and a true indie filmmaker would view that as an insult.
To stand out, to get that precious controversy, you needed to tackle subjects still considered taboo by mainstream Hollywood. So, every tale of suburban angst and ennui comes peppered with elements of sexual deviance, like incest, paedophilia, bestiality, and occasionally necrophilia.
What consenting adults do with each other isn't exactly controversial, so eliminate consent, and/or the adults, and you've got yourself a controversy.
Now these filmmakers deny that they're "exploitation" filmmakers by dragging out catchphrases like: "button pushing" "challenging" and "exploring sexuality" and "the power of sexuality" and "suburban/ urban/ rural social alienation."
What they're basically saying is: "I'm not a grindhouse b-movie maker, I'm an artist making a social statement."
There are two reasons why critics and festival judges support these films, especially the ones made by filmmakers with technical and artistic talent, because the often unsettling and repellent subject matter appeals to their inner snob and their inner rebel. There's a certain snob appeal to liking something that confuses, annoys, and repels the general public. And that desire to tweak the nose of public mores satisfies the inner rebel. So they toss out words like "courageous," "daring," and "challenging."
Now you're probably wondering why name actors like Kevin Bacon, Brian Cox, and others would appear in such films as purveyors of one of the most unforgivable evils.
First, there's the snob/rebel angle, but with actors there's what I call the Iago factor. There's a bit of a thrill playing the villain, the person who stands against society and its morality, and to try to find whatever humanity dwells in that villain. It's rare for someone to win an Oscar for playing the hero these days.
Now these films usually don't do very well commercially, one particularly controversial film Hounddog couldn't even get a release, but I'll bet dollars to donuts that the filmmakers got a deal for another movie on account of their "courage" and "daring" with that film. And they got that deal way faster than if they tried to get it on talent or skill alone.
So to boil it all down, using controversial subjects like sympathetic child molesters, is a way for filmmakers and actors to get lots of attention for little money.
When will this trend end?
When the boredom caused by repetition finally cuts through the pretencions.