I LOVED Spotlight. I was so absorbed watching this movie about child abuse scandal in Boston in the early 2000s. It was a shameful, awful episode, and I felt the movie touchingly and stirringly showed journalism at work in the way we wish it would always work.
I’m from Boston. I went to Catholic school (and had an incredibly positive experience there). I co-oped at the Boston Globe, I apparently did my co-op at the same time the Spotlight team was doing its great work (I had no idea, of course). I had lots of reasons to see the film. I wanted to see a good movie about journalism, to see what was said about the Catholic Church in Boston at the time, to see the building I briefly worked in represented onscreen, to see an entertaining dramatic film.
I gushed about the movie after seeing it and did what I, and I’m sure many people, do after an intriguing film: read the reviews, the discussion, the articles about the film. Where did they film the Globe office scenes? Where did they get their info? What did other people think of the movie? As usual, most info went into my head, was considered for the moment, and might -who knows?-still be somewhere in there, but I certainly can’t access it satisfactorily now. There was one thing that I remember finding out about: the issue of what one character said and his real-life counterpart didn’t say. As I read about it and watched a local TV interview, I got kind of angry. Why distort reality like this when it’s unnecessary?
In a nutshell, words -highly unflattering, arrogant, callous sentiments – were attributed to a man (Jack Dunn) who says he never said them. I have no idea if that is under dispute at all, but I tend to believe this man. I’d like to know what the movie’s makers have to say, but according to a Boston Globe Kevin Cullen column, they don’t seem to be too responsive about, except the same old vague, clichéed comments that seem to always get made by people in charge who don’t seem to want to say anything meaningful or particular.
As a person reading seeing the movie, reading reviews and articles about it, interested in answers, this experience is fairly frustrating. Why in the world would, as Cullen’s article asks, a screenwriter unnecessarily put words in the mouth of a real-life person’s fictionalized counterpart when a conduit for those words was already available in a wholly fabricated character? I can see the functionality of the words (showing some people behaved as if they just didn’t care about these horrible crimes), but if you’re going to show that truth in fictional words, why not just stick them in a fictional character’s mouth? Mission accomplished and no one hurt or offended.
Those of us who are not in a position to ask these questions of the sources can only hope that some satisfying answer is given and resolution made. But what a sad and frustrating thing that a movie we otherwise could gush about made such a questionable, flabbergasting decision. Doesn’t this mar the movie? And how many people will really know that Jack Dunn didn’t say these things? These really awful things. The audience, after all, is meant (and rightly so) to be up in arms at the callous attitude of certain people in the film. And they certainly will be when they hear the conversation in question. But how fair is that – is it fair at all? – to the man who is represented saying them?
So, I got to see the inside of the Globe building represented. I got say to myself, Wow. That’s the kind of thing that was going on in the rest of the Globe when I was pulling tear sheets and serving coffee at editorial board meetings? I got to be entertained by a moving, meaningful, beautifully done story with classic elements of good, bad, internal conflict. But, in the process of achieving all of that for me, I wonder why they movie had to make this mistake – so easily avoided. It seems to me, the movie-goer, that if you can have everything without mistake like this, then why have everything plus a mistake like this? It just seems so super-clumsy. And, for Jack Dunn, it seems so offensive, so sad. Why?