Once in a while you come across a movie which is very difficult to watch. Not because it is a bad movie but due to the nature of the topic it deals with. A similar movie which comes to mind is The Woodsman (Kevin Bacon gives an outstanding performance as a man released from prison after serving time for child molestation. And the direction by Nicole Kassell is absolutely brilliant).
Any movie which deals with child abuse is somehow very difficult for me to watch. It is a mixture of disgust and curiousness that engulfs me when I watch this. While the acts of the protagonist makes me squirm, there is that part of me that is curious to know what made them that way. It also makes me wonder is there any way to change them.
Stevie is a documentary made by Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame). This is the story of a boy (Stevie) the director came to know through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. The director returns to Southern Illinois after nearly 10 years to see how his 'little brother' is doing. And the picture he sees isn't pretty.
Probably because I have been part of a mentoring program for nearly 2 years, it makes this movie a little extra special to me.
Stevie's childhood is nothing short of a nightmare. An absuive and violent mom who abandons him (We later find out that she was using him as an outlet for her anger towards his father who left her), raped in a foster home, never really cared for except by one set of foster parents.
Now in his mid twenties, Stevie has been arrested numerous times for variety of crimes. During the course of the movie, he is also charged with molesting his 8-year old cousin. The movie's latter half follows this trial.
While the director doesn't use the troubled childhood as an excuse for the crimes Stevie has committed, he tries to show us that Stevie really never had a fair chance at becoming a real person.
There are a variety of characters who appear in this landscape of trailer parks and rural towns. There is Bernice - Stevie's mom who finally returns home, Brenda (Stevie's sister) and her husband who care for Stevie despite his flaws and Stevie's girlfriend Tonya who loves Stevie all the same.
Quite a few critics of the movie have criticized the director for being too involved in the movie. But according to me, they are overlooking the fact that it is Steven's story to some extent too. He is a part of Stevie's life and a story of that is not quite complete without him in it.
The movie ends with Stevie being sent to prison for 10 years for the molestation charges.
A moving depiction of the intricacies of human nature, it leaves us with a whole bunch of questions.
What if Stevie's mom was better to him ?
What if Steven had been his mentor longer ?
What if Stevie's favorite foster family had been able to keep him longer ?Well....I guess we will never know.
It left me wondering how will I react if I too saw the same bleak picture of my mentee 10 years from now.