Outing – Discussion of the ultimate taboo: Antenna Documentary Film Festival

I just saw the most difficult and controversial of documentaries. However, like all serious takes on taboo subjects that never get discussed properly, it was enormously enlightening.

Here is the film festival blurb for Outing, to give you an idea of what this film is about:

Sven is a goofy, floppy haired 26-year-old student. He is also a paedophile. The eternally unbreakable taboo is brought under the microscope in this confronting and controversial documentary as, incredibly, Sven ‘outs’ himself to the audience. Having realised at the age of fifteen that he was attracted to children, Sven is firm in maintaining that he will never act on his desires. Over four years of filming Sven attempts to remain steadfast, seeking professional help yet also testing his selfimposed boundaries. Outing raises uncomfortable questions about where the line is drawn in acting on such forbidden desires, while shedding light on this morally unacceptable yet clearly existent problem.

At the end of the film, a statistic states there are 250,000 paedophiles in Germany who do not want to act on their inclinations. Sven is one of them. He is young (over the period of the film he will go from being 26 to 30) gay, and attractive – though of course Sven doesn’t seem himself as attractive. When he found out he was a paedophile (at the age of fifteen) he was plunged into a depression where for a while he felt the only way out of his dilemma was suicide. Indeed, the compulsion to have sexual contact with children can be so strong, that one of Sven’s paedophile friends has engaged in castration as a way of stopping themselves. As all good post-Christian-culture-folk know, castration is also a way of punishing yourself. Self loathing is an intricate companion of the paedophile. As is, so it would seem, intense loneliness and the life of the outsider.

I am the mother of a boy and I have to say my primary urge through the entire film was to reach out and hug this desperately lonely individual. The isolation is extraordinary and very pervasive.  Sven uses many different tricks (my word) to keep himself away from acting out his desires. One of them is taking the enormous risk of outing himself publicly through this film. Another is regular therapy (Sven quits his job and moves across the country to meet with a therapist regularly he thinks can help him). He informs the people around him of his inclinations.  Because what Sven knows deep inside himself and what we begin to work out through the documentary is that he can’t trust himself to judge a situation effectively.

 

How close is too close?  Is it ok to masturbate to your thoughts?  Is it ok to masturbate to images of children in a catalogue  Is it ok to look at a boy playing basketball in his own front yard from inside your house across the street? Is it ok to meet a boy in a public park and play basketball?  Is it ok to take photos of boys in public as long as they are dressed?  Is it ok to joke with a boy in front of his parents?  Is it ok for a young boy to sit on your lap?

There are things Sven would never do – take a photo of boys at a pool for instance – but there are other things (see the list at the end of the previous paragraph) that test the responses of the audience because they all cause a sexual response in Sven. The desires (it seemed to me) are more in line with the intensity of a fetish rather than the desires an adult might feel for another adult in the course of a day.  One man said he would be overwhelmed with images simply by walking past a playground. Sven describes many times the way the feelings rise up and take over without any warning. Add to this, a desire for love, companionship and a relationship that you know is taboo and can never possibly be.

And that’s the real killer here. It isn’t the sexual predatory nature of the inclination, its the desperate loneliness paedophiles feel knowing their need can never ever be met no matter what. Some describe trying to marry simply so that they can have a relationship of some kind.  Sven himself is gay and tries throughout the film to have relationships with other gay men. But the crushing need can’t be stilled and the depression caused by sublimation is insistently alienating.

Sven is quick to tell documentary film makers Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider (who do an excellent job of keeping dispassionate except for one particularly difficult interview segment) that there is more to him than “just” his inclination and we are shown other sides to Sven and his very interesting life (he is the head of an archaeological expedition) but what is obviously constantly present is that Sven is alone.  Even in the interview between him and his parents, he is alone. This for me was the most shocking aspect of a very shocking documentary.  The fact that Sven’s inclination isolates so completely from society and indeed from humanity.

In one piece of interview footage Sven speaks with a psychiatrist frankly about his situation. (Incidentally part of the reason Sven will pack up and move to where a therapist is, is that very few will treat him. It seems his inclinations are “too delicate” as one therapist described it. I was shocked that a person in this condition asking for help had so much trouble finding it – but that is all part of the alienation of the paedophile.) The therapist informs Sven it is not his feelings overwhelming him that worry him, its that Sven has so little lose should he give in to his temptations. This seems to be part of the key to avoiding the horrific problems of this situation. To have so many other things in your life that will be ruined that it keeps your focus away from giving in.

Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider made this documentary over several years and initially it came out of another project of theirs.  It is complicated, deeply disturbing and horribly perplexing as it searches to make some sense of a confusing situation and a contradictory subject.

You can read a very good, long interview with the film makers here.

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