While the question of Spotlight is how a corrupt religious institution managed to protect pedophile clergymen for decades, the thesis is plainly stated—it takes a village to abuse a child.
Spotlight follows a team of journalists at the Boston Globe that try to find proof of a cover-up of child molestation within the Roman Catholic Church. During their investigation they discover a religious institution that shifts pedophiles priests around like cards in a game of Five Card Monty. They also discover that state of Massachusetts is anything but separate from the church.
The first thing of note is that the director and cinematographer understood their thesis, that it takes a village, and decided to represent it visually. The camera shrinks the scope of Boston. The majority Spotlight takes places in the cramped basement of the Boston Globe. All exterior shots compose a short, stout, image of the city. Had they chosen to show a large image of Boston—as was attempted by Black Mass, with it’s constant shots of the harbor—then it would have detracted from the film. Sky-scrapers would have stretched the feeling of community to its breaking point.
The camera follows the journalists through the areas most affected by molestations: poor communities, that remain silent either by choice, or because they couldn’t afford to speak evil against the church if they tried. The film has an obvious shift of landscape when the journalists decide to talk to the lawyers involved. The ones—to paraphrase the film—that made a cottage industry out of child abuse. But still, after it ventures into glass and concrete conference rooms, it circles back around to the brick and mortar boroughs—the village.
Another subtle visual triumph in Spotlight is the constant presence of the church over this village. No matter who the journalists are investigating, or what neighborhood they’re in, the prevailing shadow of the church is somewhere within the scene. Sometimes it’s a banal crucifix behind a lawyer, or a necklace on victim. Other times it’s a framed acrylic Jesus in kitchen, or photograph of the Vatican at the office.
Despite the numerous small roles in the film the dialogue also frames Boston as a community. The characters mention where they’re brought up, because their neighborhood, be it rich or poor, is part of their identity and serves to connect them with complete strangers. Even a clergyman informs the new boss of the Globe (Liev Schrieber), that Boston is more of a town than a city.
Everyone is connected to everyone. Even, Keaton, the man heading up the investigation at the Globe, is a golf buddy of the very people that he’s investigating. This is not to say that he, or any of the people portrayed in the film are nefariously in league with the church, just that the scope of the scandal touches everyone. And the result of the scandal within the film is a sort of apathetic blame game between all the separate civil servants. Eventually though, the buck stops at Keaton, who states that everyone failed to do their job. Each person, police officer, lawyer, and journalist, all could have done something, but instead stood by in either blissful or willful ignorance of the child molestations.
While one may leave the theatre frustrated with the idea that something like this could happen on such a grand scale, one is at least left with the solace that such crimes against humanity can be stopped, on the condition that village can come together to stop them.