This is a review of a Netflix series called The Keepers, about abuse so devastating that the abused couldn’t face it or speak of it for three decades; about how fear and shame are magnified or distorted by lens of the past. As you read below or watch the series, think about the various cultures or religions of the world where abuse of women is the norm. I think you will conclude that the world is at an inflection point of change. If you don’t have Netflix it’s free here:
http://123netflix.com/watch/RGb0XqvY-the-keepers-season-1.html at least for the time being.
Prologue: A parent can be given a child to raise, and teach, and love. In time that child may set off on the stream of life, and later return to reform and teach the parent. My daughter Lili called my attention to The Keepers. I would never have found it by myself!
Review: The Keepers
If we ponder about the fuss over abuse of some people by others with greater power, we might well spend a few hours with this Netflix original documentary series. It is as revealing, and edifying as any great work of art or literature. The series opening is subdued and unspectacular’ we listen in on a conversation between two middle aged women. Only gradually, we discover they are former students of a nun who was murdered in 1969, thirty-three years earlier. They speak of how to solve the cold case. But why? Because they were abused themselves, by Father Joseph Maskell and his friends.
We begin to realize these are real people, rather than actors; and the Baltimore murder is a fact; the majority of protagonists are themselves, almost like a U tube flick. Cathy, the murdered nun had said, just before her death, that she was aware of the abuse, and would put a stop to it. We hear of the nature, depth, cruelty and degradation of that abuse, and see more clearly how power can not only promote sexual abuse, but in this case, lead to murder, under unwritten rules that protect the abusers; the Church, Justice, and public opinion… all are dismissive, incredulous or/and complicit.
We learn that by 1992, more than three decades after the abuse, only one Jane Doe (Jean Hargadon Wehner) , was able and willing to remember her feared mmemories, and speak about them. Wehner tells how, after the murder of the nun, Father Maskell took her to the woods to see the maggot ridden decomposing body, warning,in effect, This is what happens when people talk.
Another abused classmate is Teresa Lancaster, the other person we meet in the opening of the series. Ultimately they obtain the addresses of many former students and mail letters asking if anyone else knows of such abuse. The response is immediate and huge. In 1994, the two get legal advice, and file charges against the priest.The diocese reacts, as does law and justice, through denial, obfuscation, accusation and intimidation. And almost in a tacit admission, the priest is judged by the diocese, to be ill, or perhaps depressed; he is sent for private psychiatric inpatient treatment; he is sheltered.
The two women establish a ‘tip line’ and hear that two more men may have been involved in the murder; though they find one they have no authority or help, andget nowhere. Worse, their lawsuit is thrown out because of the Statute of Limitations. A rehabilitated Father Maskell is moved about among various church assignments, like a chess piece knight, who can hop around to abuse more people. It appears he also grooms and abuses a man, who later comes forward. But, in the final act of outrageous injustice, Maskell becomes demented, and dies. There is no resolution; at least not yet.
The series lasts about 6 hours long. I have spent weeks at a time with people like Gibbon– Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Hugo– Les Miserables; dead Greeks, sacred religious books and philosophers. Yet The Keepers is alive. It is about us, the here and now, as we become more aware that power can– and is– used to abuse people of all genders, ages and cultures. That awakening may become the most sweeping societal, political, and cultural event of our time. The right and power to abuse, whether exercised between individuals, within families, or between Nations, or by those who believe they speak to– or for– Gods, can no longer be overlooked. The Keepers, as ugly and disgusting as it is to watch, is well worth the time. I have not included pasted photos because I think it is important for the reader to see the series, see them personally.
The silent ‘b’ in ‘doubt’ speaks of more than its Latin root; because there is more than meets the eye there. The silent b is sacred in the best sense of the word. In doubting there is recognition of, and reconciliation with the unknowable, the numinous, as Joseph Campbell would put it. There is more than meets the eye in cinema as well.
During my focused, timeless young years I ignored movies. They were frivolous, a waste; fans of movies were somehow pitiful, like people with diabetes. Now, in my reflective years, I doubt either conclusion. More, I reject them. After retirement, unaware of the beauty and power of idleness, or of ‘record, pause, and rewind’ I began to watch some movies. In no order of significance there were: Tango Lesson and Yes, La Meglia Juventud, The Legend of 1900, Monsoon Wedding, The Golden Door, The Lives of Others, The Visitor, to name only a few. That is not to minimize other genres of film, but to reveal my own proclivities; the list reveals my own limitations of course; I tend to be overly reflective. Yet it seemed to me that one day people will look back at this time as the golden age of cinema, with the reverence we have for Shakespeare’s works. A great film is as complex a matter as a moon landing, involving so many disciplines I don’t have the energy or wisdom to name them all. I concluded that cinematic art, like all art, is the product of a time and a set of circumstances that are never duplicated. I gradually became so captivated that I took a screenwriting course, and wrote a script.
But when I watched the film, Doubt, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, I recognized my own screenplay, set in another environment, with only a little different focus. The universal details are so true to my own experience, that I am certain they are distilled from life. Family and friends of writers will often find themselves ‘written in’ somewhere; and this film is surely evidence of that fact.
To be specific, the details I find so telling include:
1) The Priest, even if he were proven a flaming pedophile, is not an evil person. There are no unmitigated villains.
2) The Principal, the head nun, severe, judgmental, and unbending, knowing she must act though in doubt, and will ultimately be over ruled by the ‘system’, heroically defends what she feels are the best interests of her school and its students.
3) If one must find a villain, it is life itself, which forces each of us to live in a separate realty. Much misunderstanding, isolation, and conflict results.
4) The boy’s mother, living her own separate reality, knows that the possible or likely sexual abuse is inconsequential in view of the obvious benefit to her son.
5) The young nun, who is drawn into the conflict, has not yet been sufficiently humbled by her own life to define her own values; she is limited to those she has been taught. Life assaults us all; we survive and grow if we are able to do so. But we don’t know who or what we are until that process takes place. We are like Augusto, principal character in Miguel de Unamuno’s Niebla, who realizes he only lives when he suffers.
As for me, I shall never write a great script. But I will always be grateful for those , like John Patrick Shanley , who can, and who do. As I read about this author director, I realize his life has not been easy. But he has made much of it. More, to make films like this requires the devotion of many. I am grateful to you All.