"Twist of Faith": Facing the demons of clergy abuse
"Twist of Faith," Kirby Dick's devastating documentary about one man's struggle to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse at...
Seattle Times movie critic
"Twist of Faith," Kirby Dick's devastating documentary about one man's struggle to come to terms with childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, is only at the Grand Illusion for two days, presumably because it's been shown (and will be repeated) on HBO. But if you haven't caught it on cable (or in its local premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this summer), it's worth making the time this weekend: Dick's film puts a human face on a churchwide scandal that sometimes seems too big to comprehend.
That face belongs to Tony Comes, a sad-eyed firefighter in his early 30s who lives with his wife and small children in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. He's a gentle man, with a sweet rapport with his children, and as Dick began his filmmaking, Comes had just made a soul-wrenching decision: to go public as part of a lawsuit against the Toledo diocese, one of many sexual-abuse complaints filed against a local priest named Dennis Gray.
The abuse began when Comes was 14, at a weekend cabin where Gray would bring boys from the parish, for supposedly wholesome weekends of swimming and boating. Comes describes the horror quietly, pain evident in every word. "I kept my eyes closed," he says, "waited for it to be done." It would be nearly 20 years before Comes was able to share his story, and to know that he would be believed.
And what precipitated his coming forward was a coincidence so cruel it seems nearly unbelievable: Gray, who had since left the priesthood, moved into Comes' neighborhood, into a house just a few doors down from Comes' own. Haunted by memories, Comes paced the block at night, carrying a video camera. In the film, we see an unremarkable house with no one at the windows, and shiver upon hearing Comes' voice: "That's where the monster lives."
Dick created the film's almost unnerving intimacy by providing Comes and his wife Wendy with video cameras so they could film at any time, without the presence of a director and crew. One scene, in which Comes tells his 8-year-old daughter about the abuse (he had to, as Gray was now his neighbor), is almost unwatchable; you almost can't bear to be in a room with this much pain. But it's a gentle, loving moment, with Comes carefully choosing his words so the little girl will understand.
"Twist of Faith," which earned an Academy Award nomination for best documentary earlier this year, has many such scenes that are painful to watch, and some that are truly shocking. (In deposition footage, Gray — who never admits guilt — says coolly that some children aren't bothered by molestation.) But it's an important film that isn't afraid to show us one man's scars, and the painful steps he needs to take to heal them.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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