Mistress Marilyn (mistressmarilyn) wrote,
Mistress Marilyn

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Abuse is Infectious . . .

Our 'snow day' today wasn't all that snowy. I worked from home, but not all that much. We watched a two-part movie that we bought on line . . . hadn't seen it in several years, and we managed to get rid of our own copy. Called 'The Boys of St. Vincents,' it was made in 1992, before all the sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests became so prevalent in the public eye. In this fact-based story, the boys referred to in the title are orphans abused by an order of Catholic Brothers in Newfoundland. The main character, Brother Peter Lavin, is played by Canadian actor Henry Czerny (the Duke of Norfolk in 'The Tudors').

(The following contains spoilers for the story, fyi.)

The first part focuses on the events inside the orphanage, and it's pretty well crafted. At first you don't know who to suspect, but your focus narrows on Lavin and his obsession with Kevin, a ten-year-old boy who at first seems uncomfortable around headmaster Lavin, then terrified by him. You're not sure whether the other Brothers are aware . . . they seem okay, overall, until their affectionate attention toward the boys takes a twisted turn. You suddenly realize at least two or three of the others are major abusers themselves, preying on several of the boys and brutalizing them. Lavin leers at the naked boys in the showers, but centers his physical attentions on Kevin. By the end of the first part, Lavin has been 'outed,' but just barely. The Brothers are transferred away from St. Vincents and their transgressions are buried in the bureaucracy of the Church and the Canadian justice system.

The second part is set 15 years later when the case has somehow come to light and the Brothers are arrested and prosecuted; we find Lavin married with two boys of his own. Yes, the major question about those two boys and his affection for them lingers throughout the story--and in fact is the last thing addressed between Lavin and his wife, a question left unanswered. This story centers on the psychological damage done to two of the original boys and the mental and emotional struggles of Lavin himself. The most compelling scenes are probably between Lavin and his assigned therapist.

In the end, nothing is really answered. There's no epiphany, no revelation that Lavin was abused himself, thus became an abuser. We do learn about his own upbringing, being orphaned, raised in foster homes and then in St. Vincents, afraid of sex and of love, purposely hardening himself to the cruelties of the world. He has made his mission in life to pass on this lesson to the boys he oversees. And for him, this passes as love.

Henry Czerny is an amazing actor. His Lavin is terrifying and tortured, controlled but occasionally vulnerable. In the end you almost expect him to publicly reveal himself, but he simply cannot. We do see him confessing his sin (to a priest), which could serve as his release. Kevin fares better, able to open his wounds in court and hopefully start to heal. We don't see Lavin convicted, but regardless of whether he goes to prison, his punishment is eternal; he has lost his family, his career and his reputation.

One of the most awful revelations is about another of the orphans who ended up an abuser himself, victimizing younger boys at St. Vincents as a teenager, then becoming a male prostitute and drug addict after his release. His tragic fate seemed not only inevitable, but obvious. It was made more interesting by the fact that this particular character seemed like the tough kid, the one more capable of coping than the fragile Kevin.

I found this Canadian-made television film really well done. It handled a horrible, potentially lurid subject in a decidedly human way, without the histrionics of a show like 'Special Victims Unit.' And it gave us at least three tragic characters to ponder, including the abuser himself.

ETA: Had to add a historical factoid. Charlie found this link to a list of criminal counts and sentences in Canadian cases of this kind of abuse. St. Vincents was evidently based on the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland.

Tags: boys of st. vincents, character, peter lavin

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