A closer look at… Spotlight

© Entertainment One, 2016.
© Entertainment One, 2016.

Spotlight is rated 15 for child sexual abuse references

The Scoop – An intelligent drama which manages to be both restrained and powerful.

It’s 2001, and the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe are looking for their next big story. They’re dubious when their new boss, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), asks them to dig deeper into a case involving an abusive priest, John Geoghan. The documents are all legally sealed, and any attempt to access them will be viewed by the Church as a hostile move. In a city where Catholicism is part of everybody’s life, the Globe doesn’t want to alienate its readers.

But when journalists ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaten), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) start asking questions, they realise that Geoghan is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only are there more abusive priests in Boston than anybody had guessed, but the cover-up encompasses powerful figures from the Church and across the city.

Shining a light into this story will involve not only confronting the painful experiences of the many victims, but also coming to terms with the shocking complicity of everyone involved.

Our Take

The straightforward, unglamorous nature of Spotlight is its secret weapon. This is a film of quiet and unassuming profundity which gathers momentum slowly, never descending into sensationalism or melodrama. Given the horror of what the Spotlight team uncovers, it’s hard to imagine any other approach working.

The script honours the everyday hard work done by these dedicated journalists, and also, crucially, foregrounds the experiences of survivors. We only get one scene of an abuser attempting to justify his actions, an encounter which leaves both Sacha and the audience reeling. What we’re left with is a sense of long-term consequences, the stories of the countless people who have been left to rebuild their lives in the absence of justice.

Though Spotlight recounts true events from a specific place and time, its uncomfortable questions and its implications are far larger. Evil, we’re reminded, can look totally ordinary: it can be found in church halls and at charity functions, on golf courses and suburban streets. It can look like self-justification, like silence and compromise – and nobody comes out clean.

© Entertainment One, 2016.
© Entertainment One, 2016.

Dig Deeper

  • How would you describe your experience of watching the film? Was it what you expected? Which scenes or moments will remain with you the longest?
  • Is there anything particularly cinematic about Spotlight? In your view, would the film have been just as good as a TV series or on the small screen? Why do you think the screenwriters chose to tell the story as a feature film?
  • What did you think of the ensemble cast? Did any performances in particular stand out to you, and why? What effect does it have when a film follows a group of characters, rather than focusing on one individual?
  • How is Boston presented in the film? What kind of community is it, and how does this affect the Spotlight investigation? As the end credits roll, we see the locations of many other clergy abuse scandals across the world; did this change your perspective on the film’s events?

‘I think you’ll find that Boston’s still a small town in many ways.’ – Cardinal Law (Len Cariou)

  • How crucial is Marty Baron’s outsider status to the events of the film? Why is he able to see what the others can’t? What happens to institutions that don’t make room for fresh perspectives?
  • The Spotlight journalists place a great deal of importance on ‘telling the story right’. What might it look like to investigate and write a story like this in an ethical way? What do you think the journalists owe to the survivors who have come forward?

‘Language is gonna be so important here. We can’t sanitise this.’ – Sacha

  • What does Spotlight have to say about the power of truth, and the power of listening to people who have been silenced? Which groups of people might be vulnerable to being silenced in our own society? How could we make sure that their voices are heard?
  • What do you think it meant by the term ‘spiritual abuse’, and why is this an important part of the survivors’ stories? (You might want to read more about the characteristics of spiritual abuse.)

‘This is not just physical abuse, it’s spiritual abuse too.’ –  Phil Saviano (Neal Huff)

  • How are the Spotlight journalists each impacted personally by the investigation? In particular, how did you feel about seeing Robbie confronted with his own complicity? What different reactions might people have to discovering that they are ‘part of the problem’?
  • In your view, is it still possible to have faith in God in a world where religious institutions have been responsible for many atrocities? What are we left with when we’re failed by people we have trusted as examples of goodness or morality?  Is there anything, or anyone, you feel able to have complete faith in?


© Entertainment One, 2016.
© Entertainment One, 2016.

Read More

‘Spotlight’ Director Tom McCarthy on Heroes, Healing and ‘The Cobbler’

Watching the Watchers: Tom McCarthy on Making Spotlight

Globe reporters tell their ‘Spotlight’ stories

“Spotlight” and Its Revelations


Published by

Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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