Netflix documentary film “Procession”, which was released in last week, presents one interesting therapeutic process to observe and appreciate. Mainly revolving around six different men who are all survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the documentary gradually reveals their longtime pain and anger as they prepare step by step for shooting the fictionalized reenactments of their respective traumatic moments in the past, and we come to have more empathy and understanding on them while also reflecting more on the injustices inflicted upon them.
They are Joe Eldred, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, Dan Laurine, Michael Sandridge, and Tom Viviano, and each of them has each own traumatic story to tell. As being sexually abused by those deplorable predators who were supposed to guide and protect them, they were all angry and confused to say the least, but there was no one to help or support them at that time, and one of them painfully remembers when his mother later sent him back to his victimizer with a chocolate cake without any idea on what her son was going through.
Because sexual abuse by Catholic priests finally came to draw lots of public attention in the early 2000s as depicted in Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” (2015), these six people eventually decided to come out as the survivors of sexual abuse under the Catholic Church several years ago, and that was how they were contacted by director Robert Greene and his production team in 2018. After meeting some of these survivors via a lawyer representing them, Green asked them whether they could participate in the production of a movie which reenacts their traumatic experiences, and they and other group members willingly agreed to collaborate with Green with a professional drama therapist in attendance.
As subsequently preparing for making their movie, the six survivors naturally come to face their traumas again – and how much they have struggled during all those many years. In case of Foreman, he is still seething a lot about what happened to him around 40 years ago, and he feels all the more frustrated after losing an opportunity for any closure for him. He remembers well how his belated accusation against that horrible man was quickly and heartlessly dismissed by the independent review board inside the Catholic Church, and there is a brief but undeniably harrowing scene where he shows us how he often tries to calm himself in his little private place.
In case of Viviano, he even cannot tell that much about what happened to his younger self at that time, but he comes forward nonetheless for helping his several fellow survivors as much as he can. During the shooting of a couple of key reenactment scenes, he is cast as a priest who abused Eldred, and we later see how he tries his best even though he is quite uncomfortable about playing someone not so far form the one who sexually abused him in the past.
Along with Sandridge, who usually functions as the main representative of the group, Eldred closely watches the whole shooting of this reenactment scene, and that is quite an emotionally draining moment for him to say the least. As a man who understands well abuse and its consequent trauma, Eldred has diligently worked as a counselor for many abused kids, but he cannot help but feel angry and helpless again as revisiting his own traumatic past, and we are relieved as he manages to endure in the end while also having more enlightenment on that old traumatic experience of his.
In case of Laurine and his older brother, who was also sexually abused by the same priest, they try to locate a place where their innocence was shattered forever, and then they soon find themselves struggling with their old trauma again as their search does not seem to be going anywhere. When it looks like they finally find the spot they have been looking for, they come to have a little moment for healing together, and you will be touched by the little poignancy of this small personal moment.
In the meantime, the documentary also observes a bit of Gavanan’s continuing pursuit of justice. Despite his strenuous efforts, the priest who sexually abused him is not punished at all even around the time of his eventual demise, and he certainly lets out lots of his anger and frustration when he is later allowed to demolish the set for the reenactment of his traumatic experience bit by bit. Although he will still have to live with his dark trauma as before, he feels a little better than before, and it is touching to see him ready to be open about his trauma as continuing his life with more peace of mind.
As he previously did in “Kate Plays Christine” (2016) and “Bisbee ‘17” (2018), Green takes his own unconventional approach for delving deeper into his human subjects, and the overall result is often quite powerful with considerable emotional truth. The reenactment scenes in the documentary may initially look plain on the surface, but they eventually come to resonate a lot with the deeply human aspects observed from the behind-the-scene preparation of the six survivors, and we are reminded again of why we really need to listen to sexual abuse survivors more than before.
In conclusion, “Procession” is another excellent documentary vividly illuminating the pain and struggle of sexual abuse survivors, and I particularly admire how Green handles his human subjects with care and respect. In short, this is one of better documentaries of this year, and I sincerely urge you to check it out as soon as possible.
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