Essay:Depicting the Minor Attracted Adult in Cinema - A Review and Analysis of GUTER JUNGE
Depicting the Pedophile in Cinema: Guter Junge
Guter Junge ("A Good Boy") is a German film about a teen who is attracted to younger boys. The teen, Sven, goes to live with his divorced father, Achim, after his mother is killed in an auto accident. But soon his father finds out about his attractions. Sven attempts suicide, but his father intercedes. Though he cannot understand and refuses to condone the attraction, Achim's love for his son leads him to try - rather clumsily - to help him "get over" his feelings and adapt to a "normal" life, rather than turn him over to authorities. Inevitably, though, this attempt to suppress Sven's natural orientation fails, and he ends up in jail anyway.
It's rare to find a film that offers a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile character. Of those that I have seen, Guter Junge is one of the better ones. Granted, there are practical limitations to how sympathetically you can portray a pedophile without being run out of town, and this film is not immune to that. Though Sven is portrayed very sympathetically, and his father tries hard to help him, the narrative still employs some measure of stereotyping, and ultimately suffers from an incomplete exploration of the themes involved. Put simply, it doesn't offer any kind of hope for a solution, which is really not surprising, because the public is not ready to be told that pedophiles can (or deserve to) enjoy a happy ending. However, I'd like to provide some notes, for the edification of those who shall follow in this film's footsteps, detailing what this story lacks, and how it might be improved for a more positive and hopeful portrayal of pedophilia (even in spite of all the difficulties and complications that being a pedophile [or hebephile] in this society entails).
First, let's consider the way Sven "recruits" his "victims." It is admirable that this film makes some attempt to indicate that the young boy whom Sven has feelings for, Patrick, is not traumatized by his friendship with Sven, and even suggests that the affection shared between them is mutual. However, it is still troubling the way that Sven is accustomed to lying to boys to get them into his bedroom, telling them that he is a talent scout, and then filming them as if they were auditioning for a role.
This seems to be a stereotypical portrayal of how a child molester might stalk and groom his victims. I will grant that it may not be an unrealistic depiction of how a pedophile in particular might attempt to become closer to boys. But I think it deserves to be said that the pedophile in this instance might well be acting out of desperation. Society does not provide an environment where it is acceptable for a teen or older man (or woman) to befriend little boys (or girls), certainly not to offer them romantic gestures. And it also must be said that a pedophile may be perfectly capable of avoiding interacting in such a manner with children, in spite of their desires (I'll have more to say on that in a moment). But even for those pedophiles who do, you have to consider that there's no real alternative. No, I don't think it justifies lying to kids, and leading them into unexpected romantic encounters that they may not desire. However, I do believe it deserves to be considered as a mitigating factor, especially when generalizing on the intentions of pedophiles. I genuinely don't think that most pedophiles want to victimize children - and the fact that some of them do should be weighed against the fact that the only way to avoid it is to restrain oneself completely. Again, this is absolutely no excuse for abuse, but it should be considered when interpreting a pedophile's behaviors.
Furthermore, I would like to add that just because certain unscrupulous individuals may use the guise of being a "talent scout" (or similar foils) to gain (and later take advantage of) the trust of children, this should not be used as an excuse to punish (e.g., by imposing unnecessary restrictions on) genuine talent scouts who really can deliver on the promises they make, and who admire the talents of children independent of the desire to "abuse" them.
Now let's talk about the (apparent) inevitability of offending. I did not like that this film, through the words of Sven's father, likened pedophilia to a drug addiction. According to his father, Sven was like a junkie; his next "hit" was inevitable, no matter how hard he tried to avoid it, and no matter how hard he wanted to avoid it. Sven really wanted to change, and I believe he would if he could. But pedophilia is not a choice, and it's not a phase that people grow out of. There was a really good opportunity in this film to emphasize the fact that this attraction is something a pedophile has to live with their entire life; that they have to learn how to come to terms with it, and not try futilely to fight against it. And this point does come out in the end, when it's apparent that Sven cannot "kick" his attraction. But what's not helpful is this assumption that feelings inevitably lead to behaviors, i.e., that if a pedophile has desires, then it's only a matter of time before he will offend.
This is a really dangerous belief, not just because it marginalizes the many pedophiles who do live relatively successful and content lives while staying within the law. It's also dangerous because it robs the pedophile of any hope of living well, and living without offending. Speaking as a pedophile, this is incredibly depressing. But even from the perspective of the rest of the world, if it were possible for pedophiles to live without offending, isn't this the sort of thing we should be encouraging, and striving to understand, so we can promote it? Wouldn't it be better than resigning ourselves to the point of view that the only good pedophile is a dead pedophile? What if we could eliminate the pedophile's "danger" to children, without having to resort to the equivalent of genocide? Is that not a goal worth considering, even to the point of exploring in the media as we sometimes do in cinema? What good do you think it serves to insist that pedophiles will inevitably molest children? How do you expect the pedophiles to act when they have to hear that repeatedly? And who aren't even allowed to consider that being a pedophile could mean something different than becoming a child molester? Why are we encouraging these damaging thoughts?
Think about the moral of this film: if you're a pedophile, you can struggle all you like, but you're eventually going to offend, and then you'll end up in jail. Even if you find loved ones who try to help you, there is nothing to be done about it. If you don't want to live a tortured life of hiding, or end up behind bars, you may as well kill yourself. I think it was really sympathetic the way that Sven unsuccessfully attempted suicide, and then afterward his father tried to convince him that he was better off alive. And for awhile, it seemed like that might have been true. But considering how things ended, are we supposed to look back and say, "Oh well, he should have just killed himself and gotten it over with back then after all?" Is that the moral? Or is it that there's no point in trying to help a pedophile, no matter how much you may love them as a person, because they're going to end up in jail one way or another, so you might as well turn him in, before he (or she) hurts any (more) children?
There was a single gleam of hope, and that is when Achim's girlfriend was insisting that he take Sven to a therapist. But as any pedophile will recognize, it's a perilous lifeline. Sven's father refused, because he suspected the same thing that most pedophiles suspect, which effectively eliminates any possibility for therapeutic treatment: he didn't want to give Sven up to a therapist, because he feared they would take Sven away from him if they knew about his attractions. When you're trying to keep pedophilia a secret, because you believe the treatment that the state or the public offers (demands!) is not conducive to the pedophile's health (which in turn affects the children that pedophile will interact with), you have no choice but to view therapists as part of that machine, i.e., an arm of the enemy, not an ally. This is a very effective block to treatment. I am sure there are some honorable therapists in practice, but whether or not a therapist will really betray a pedophile's confidence is irrelevant when the common belief is that they are untrustworthy. If a pedophile doesn't have enough trust to risk therapy, he will never find out, and the result is the same - no treatment, no guidance, he's left to fend for himself. And we've seen where that often leads (though it's not inevitable, as the many well-adjusted pedophiles in the world would attest to - that is, if they weren't afraid to speak up, which could seriously undermine their safety).
Guter Junge was a very good film. However, we still have a long way to go to create a film about pedophilia that is truly good for society. The thing that concerns me the most is that we seem content to wallow in our despair over the topic of intergenerational attraction. We don't seem committed to truly addressing the issue critically, with a mind to finding practical solutions to the various problems pedophilia and hebephilia causes (not limited just to children or adolescents, respectively), or even further, considering the possibility that pedophilia is not so much the cause of these problems, but more an indicator of what's wrong with our constructions of childhood and sexuality overall, or of our eagerness to single out a scapegoat to unload our frustrations upon. The important thing is to have an open discussion about these topics, so that when we reach conclusions, we can be confident that we've considered the alternatives, and have chosen the conclusion that makes sense, not the one that "feels right," before we've critically examined the evidence. And right now, we don't have an open discussion. The discussion is very much closed and one-sided. Pedophilia will not cease being a problem until we've allowed ourselves to open up the discourse and at least consider what the other side of the issue has to offer. You can deny this, and fight it all you want, but as the years pass by, and our one-track attitude towards pedophilia persists, I ask you to examine whether or not the problem is going away. Has it yet?