by James McNally on April 29, 2012

in Documentaries,Film Festivals,Hot Docs


Outing (Directors: Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider): Sven is a young German man who faces the camera at the very begin­ning of this har­rowing film and con­fesses his (unwanted) sexual attrac­tion to young boys. His con­fes­sion and par­ti­cip­a­tion in the film is an attempt to ensure that he never acts on this desire. It’s an admir­able goal and an extremely cour­ageous step, and yet Sven’s life is never going to be easy. Directors Meise and Reider incor­porate some of Sven’s family’s home videos of his own child­hood to remind the viewer that someone that many would con­sider a mon­ster grew up in an envir­on­ment that looked pretty normal.

Sven tries to figure out why he is the way he is, and we learn that his father was with­drawn from the family and that his mother never expressed affec­tion for him. Perhaps his pedo­philia is an attempt to hang onto his child­hood or to exper­i­ence child­hood in a way he never did. Nonetheless, he knows his desires are dan­gerous, even if he can’t change them. The film­makers follow Sven over a period of four years, checking in with him every few months to see how he’s doing. Although he is an intel­li­gent man with a valu­able pro­fes­sion (he’s an archae­olo­gist), he doesn’t seem able to con­nect with his co-workers or neigh­bours. Years of keeping his secret as well as his lonely child­hood have left him unable to form attach­ments easily, and he is con­stantly searching for a ther­apist who can help him manage his feel­ings. We over­hear an inter­view with one who warns him that his social isol­a­tion only makes it easier to act on his attrac­tions, since there’s “nothing to lose.” The irony is that because he’s unable to talk about his situ­ation with anyone other than fellow pedo­philes, he lacks a peer group who could keep him from harming a child.

As the film goes on, he seems to depend more and more on his online com­munity, a group of pedo­philes who all claim not to have acted upon their desires. But they share fantasies and photos of “cute” (though clothed) chil­dren. It’s dif­fi­cult to watch, since it only seems to inflame Sven’s desire for a “rela­tion­ship” with a child. Even though he knows this is inap­pro­priate, he seems to want to test his limits and when he feels he’s suc­ceeded (sleeping in the same bed with his young nephew, for instance), it makes him bolder, wanting to get even closer. It’s creepy but also heart­breaking, knowing that he has had so little human affec­tion in his life.

The chal­lenge is that there are very few ther­ap­ists who know how to help people like Sven. These desires are unex­plain­able, and seem unchange­able. He meets an older man who, after twenty years of largely unsuc­cessful therapy, opts for cas­tra­tion sur­gery. It removes some of the sexual urgency, but not the fantasies. When Sven first dis­covered his pedo­philia at the age of 16, he tried to kill him­self. Facing a lifelong struggle at such a young age, he’s doing his best to appear optim­istic, but des­pite his nervous smiles, it’s hard not to see the strain and fear on his face every time he speaks to the filmmakers.

Outing is an act of bravery from both film­makers and sub­ject. A ther­apist actu­ally tells Sven he’s put­ting his life in danger by outing him­self, and in another heart­breaking moment, Sven acknow­ledges that someone might kill him, and that “it wouldn’t be so bad.” There are no happy end­ings in this story. Either Sven struggles with his desire for the next 50 years, opts for drastic sur­gery, some hateful person kills him, or he stumbles and hurts a child and ends up in prison, where pedo­philes are not par­tic­u­larly pop­ular. He didn’t ask for these desires and des­pite his valiant efforts, he may not be able to resist them forever.

The film doesn’t have any answers, but it does put a human face on a real problem that nobody wants to acknow­ledge. And in a society that uses sex to manip­u­late ever-younger con­sumers, people like Sven have a more dif­fi­cult road than ever. The final title card reveals that there are more than 250,000 people like Sven in Germany alone, people strug­gling against their pedo­philic desires, who don’t want to hurt chil­dren, who hate them­selves for not pos­sessing a socially-acceptable sexual self. If we really want to pro­tect chil­dren, we need to do a lot more to help these people and not wait for them to offend and then just lock them up. Hopefully Sven’s des­perate act of courage will do some good.


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