Spotlight, Trumbo and Walls of Silence

Walls of silence can hide controversial issues from public view and two recent films, Spotlight and Trumbo, illustrate the complexities of these silences. In Spotlight, investigators break a wall of silence to expose corruption, and in Trumbo a wall of silence  protects the voices of oppressed individuals.

Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight is about a team of journalists at the Boston Globe known as “Spotlight” and their investigation of the child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic Priests in Massachusetts, which published January 6, 2002.  Complications in this story emerge with reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) in their quest for truth-telling. In parallel the political landscape of opposing issues between church and state is embodied in two lawyers, Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) and Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci). The outcomes of these power struggles are ugly if not hideous. The film does not romanticize the justice rendered as problem solved, lessons learned. It exposes consequences at a human level. In fact, once instances of abuse are exposed it becomes painfully obvious that these acts have left damage, disorder, and harm on all sides.

The next film, Jay Roach’s Trumbo, is about a wall of silence that went up for different reasons in the 1950s. Staged at the time of the McCarthy Hearings of the Committee on Un-American Activities, this wall stands as a defense against the Committee’s  attack on the cultural underbelly of Hollywood. Writers, actors, and directors suspected of being members of the Communist Party were defamed, jailed, and harmed in more violent ways. In response, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) and his spouse Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane) took matters into their own hands and went underground to network Trumbo and others writing under pseudonyms. 

Trumbo seems to have a long, wordy script; but the pace escalates into a polarized firestorm of cultural frustration, between the compelling character roles of John Goodman’s Frank King (a producer of films that would qualify as “bad movies”) and Helen Mirren’s Hedda Hopper (the news columnist out to ridicule and expose Communists). Eventually at the eclipse of McCarthy’s witch hunts, the writers in  hiding re-emerge as celebrated artists.

There is something for everyone in these films and both received high ratings from critics. Their timely release within the currently polarized American political climate makes for a poignant cultural backdrop to contemplate.  These films remind us that the cost of suppression and the justice of exposing it comes with real human consequences that know no politics.

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