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Abuse - Review

This is easily one of the most powerful films I have ever seen in my life…

This is easily one of the most powerful films I have ever seen in my life. I rented it without knowing a thing about it, and was absolutely knocked out the first time I saw it. I plunked down the rather high purchase price immediately, and felt that it was worth every penny. Since then I have watched it a dozen times, and have shown it to many friends, virtually all of who were as moved as I was. It is not for the squeamish, and should only be viewed by those who like their drama earthy, raw and real. It is required that the viewer have an open mind, as portions of the story are highly disturbing. The stark subject matter makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

The drama and suspense are almost unbearable, and in more than one spot I found myself extremely shaken, and absolutely in tears. Upon its release, Vito Russo, gay film historian and author of The Celluloid Closet said, “(This is) not just the best gay film I’ve seen this year, it’s the best film I’ve seen this year”. Yes, it’s a movie about child abuse. It asks the questions, are all forms of abuse equal? Can an act of love also be abuse?

The film centers around the relationship between a 14 year old boy, the victim of horrible physical abuse by his parents, and a film student, an older man who is creating a documentary about child abuse for his film thesis. Initially drawn to the boy’s tragic and dangerous plight, the student and the victim find themselves falling in love.

The student is not presented as a pedophile, rather he is portrayed as a kind and caring man who happens to fall in love with someone much younger than he is. The boy, although underage, is presented as a fairly mature young man who realizes he’s gay, and longs for someone to “rescue” him from the unspeakable torture he is suffering at the hands of his parents. The physical tortures inflicted by the boy’s parents are contrasted by tenderness and concern at the hands of the older man. The boy is a tragic figure, but equally heartbreaking is the dilemma of the student, who is clearly unprepared for the conflict he feels and the criticism he faces from those in whom he confides. These aspects of the film are very carefully and realistically presented as a wholly believable moral dilemma.

Chief among the unforgettable scenes is a sequence where the film student overhears the vivid, horrible abuse of the 14-year-old boy, recorded secretly by the victim, and left on the student’s answering machine. This scene alone was one of the most truly horrifying and haunting moments I’ve ever experienced in a film. I felt every bit of both character’s anguish and frustration. Granted, the acting is amateurish in spots, and the production values are very poor, but the black and white photography and jumpy camera work just add to the feel of realism. The dramatic content and genuine suspense kept me riveted to my seat from beginning to end. While the climax proffered no real solution, it did manage to provide a thoughtful and provocative series of events on which to ponder and should also serve to provoke earnest discussion. And that’s a good thing.


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