We open on a scene from a family home movie – a cute little boy and his young brother mugging for the camera as their mother films and their father looks on. It’s as normal and immediately endearing as any home movie can be. Flash forward in time and that same little boy now sits before us, alone, as a good-looking and quiet young man.
“When did you first know?” the unseen filmmaker asks from behind the camera. Sven, the subject of this particular film, hesitates only a moment before beginning to describe the exact moment he realized that he was a pedophile. His words come quickly, showing his nervous determination to speak as openly as possible about this most taboo of subjects. Sven tells us that he’d read a story in a newspaper when he was 15 or 16 years old about a man who’d molested and killed a young girl, and that had finally given him a word for what he’d realized he was: a pedophile. From that moment on, young Sven has been battling his demons, fighting his urges, and considering every option he can think of to find help in making sure he never gets to the point of hurting any one – including himself.
He really has no idea, but Sven is pretty much instantly likeable. His shy smile and sparkling brown eyes haven’t changed at all from that fun little boy in the film’s opening scene, and his intelligence and personality shine through in his ability to speak honestly about himself, even the things about himself that he hates. Sven shows us photos from his childhood in an album his mother put together for him for his 18th birthday. He muses that he must have been happy as a young boy, because his smile in the photos does not seem faked – he was not yet worried about what he was.
Later on, however, Sven began to feel more and more ugly and unlikeable. He and his brother were the best of friends, but a lack of physical affection from the adults in his life, coupled with a growing sense of distance from the world around him, perhaps helped him to feel that he was, in fact, not loveable. As a member of an invisible minority (in addition to suspected pedophilia, Sven also realized that he’s a homosexual), his sense of value and self-worth was nearly non-existent by the time he became a teenager. Even now, when asked to give a reason someone might love him, Sven can’t come up with a single answer. His deep inner sadness and tremendous fear come through so strongly at many points in this film that it’s often impossible not to want to hug him.
One of the most important things Sven does, really, is to talk about everything he’s going through. He’s been through a number of therapists, joined message boards, told his family about his inclinations, and allowed himself to be filmed regularly over a number of years for a documentary. The hope is that, by talking about it as honestly as possible, he’ll be able to keep himself in check, and allow himself to receive feedback from others regarding the thoughts that pass through his mind. It’s almost as though he doesn’t view himself so much as an adult, but rather, still a young boy seeking affection and friendship from other young boys. He obsessively takes pictures of children he encounters in various venues, and goes back through them at his leisure; trying to capture their youth and innocence forever, willing them to never grow up. When Sven checks in with the filmmakers and tells them of recent situations with boys in which he could have crossed the line and didn’t, his pride in his restraint is as evident as his fear. His eyes plead with them to agree – to tell him he’s doing well, and that they are proud of him, too. Yet when one of them points out that he should try not getting so close to the line in the first place, his eyes drop and he understands the need to step back more if he is to maintain his resolve and keep his promises to himself.
I highly recommend seeing this film if you ever have the chance. More importantly, I’d like to encourage everyone to begin dialoguing about the subject of pedophilia, and the people whose lives are affected by it. The unwillingness of many therapists to deal with a pedophile in their practice is frightening all on its own, because the number of people who need help is growing – and will continue to grow, so long as no one is willing to discuss it or even admit that it exists. Young Sven is one of the bravest people I’ve ever seen, and the very act of putting himself out there so completely – of documenting something so overwhelming to him for such a long period of time – all serves to make even complete strangers in a theatre halfway around the globe genuinely care about what happens to him from here.
I only wish he could know that.
Outing is screening as part of the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto Sunday April 29 at 11:00am (ROM)