Political Film Society - Newsletter #218 - January 22, 2005

January 22, 2005


The WoodsmanWhen a prisoner is paroled after a twelve-year sentence for child molesting, how can he return to a normal life? That is the question asked in The Woodsman, directed by Nicole Kassell, based on the play by Steven Fechter. Walter (played by Kevin Bacon), the pedophile, has been released in March 2003 and returns to Philadelphia to discover at least ten barriers on the path to normalcy. (1) Landlords do not want to rent to ex-cons. (2) Employers do not want to hire ex-cons, and his former boss at a Philadelphia lumberyard has been replaced by his son. (3) After his son rehires him, out of respect to his father, Walter fails to accept a chicken sandwich at lunch from the secretary of the boss, Eve (played by May Kay), who decides that his peculiar behavior requires a websearch; due to a Megan's Law in Pennsylvania, she locates information about him from a child molesters website and then harasses him by urging him to get another job, putting nasty notes in his locker, and spreading the word to a coworker. (4) The coworker, in turn, throws a punch, resulting in a fight. (5) On a regular basis, Walter visits a therapist, Bob (played by David Alan Grier), who at first annoys him. (6) His parole officer, Sergeant Lucas (played by Mos Def), barges into his apartment from time to time to harass him. (7) His own sister, with whom he evidently slept innocently when they were children, refuses to see him. (8) Vickie (played by Kyra Sedgwick), a coworker who confesses that she was sexually molested by three brothers when she was growing up, takes a liking to Walter but needles him about what she believes is his secret; later, after they have sex, he asks her politely to leave, as if to say that he interprets her persistent attention only as having a lascivious motivation. (9) He beats up a thirtysomething man who is trying to pick up young boys, a crime for which the penalty would be to return to prison for the rest of his life. (10) Walter is perhaps his own worst enemy, as he is indeed still attracted to prepubescent girls. However, Walter is one of the fortunate ones.

He overcomes the barriers: (1) He finds a place to rent--across from an elementary school.  (2) His new boss is impressed with his work.  (3) Vickie exposes Eve as responsible for Walter's on-the-job harassment. (4) The fisticuffs are broken quickly by his boss, who puts the blame on the one who threw the first punch. (5) Therapist Bob proves to be very helpful. (6) Sgt. Lucas could have questioned him to the a breaking point regarding a nearby case of child molesting, in which he played no role, but he decides not to. (7) His brother-in-law Carlos (played by Benjamin Bratt) is supportive, and he eventually brokers a meeting between Walter and his sister. (8) Vickie falls in love with Walter and eventually invites him to move in with her. (9) The molester of the boy is extradited to Virginia, where there is an outstanding warrant, so he is not around to finger Walter as his assaulter. (10) He follows and converses in a park with an eleven-year-old girl, Robin (played by Hannah Pilker), even asking her to sit on his lap; but, when tears flow as she tells him that her father has been molesting her, he withdraws his offer to have her sit on his lap. Evidently his redemption occurs in part due to Vickie's confession but mostly to Robin's tears; he perhaps develops a profound sensitivity to the plight of those whom he has molested, but as well he evidently realizes that his addiction has been ruining his own life. However, not all those on parole are so fortunate to overcome so many challenges. As Walter's parole officer informs him, recidivism statistics demonstrate that the odds against the rehabilitation of former prisoners. The Woodsman, the title of which is based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, profoundly explains the way in which society loads the dice against former prisoners who try to reform. MH

Each year the Political Film Society gives awards to the best films that raise political consciousness, based on votes cast by members. For 2004, there was an abundance of films in the categories EXPOSÉ and HUMAN RIGHTS, so members began voting on January 1 to narrow the list; to five per category, in accordance with the rules of procedure of the Society. A copy of the ballot is posted here so that members can vote by the deadline of January 31. The Board of Directors of the Political Film Society will meet to count all ballots at 10 a.m. on February 1 at 8481 Allenwood Road, Los Angeles. Final ballots will be sent to members shortly thereafter.