Sean Finnegan would like to move on. After directing his award-winning documentary Out of the Darkness, featuring stories of people who escaped from the prison-like world of pornography, his production company, Anteroom Pictures, is ready for something more uplifting — maybe an account of the interior life of St. Thomas More.
“More started out with a Christological spirituality,” Finnegan said in a phone interview, “Not a simple devotion to the Blessed Virgin or to novenas. But when death was coming, he started to rely more on what our grannies relied on” — the solid, simple, time-tested devotions that the Church knows we need. “We need to hold onto these things, so when you’re faced with tough times, you have a strong interior life.”
Maybe this new direction for Finnegan is not so different from what he has already done. Out of the Darkness is very much a work that reveals the hidden, inner life of people we thought we knew. It’s about the struggle to build some interior strength through basic, ancient truths. It’s about the old idea that love conquers darkness.
The camera quietly attends as tears well in the wounded eyes of Shelley Lubben, who worked for many years as a prostitute, stripper and porn star.
In the film, Lubben speaks with theatrical poise when recounting her first transaction with a john and rolls her eyes comically over the dilemma of porn film etiquette: “What do you do when you meet the guy you’re going to have sex with? Shake hands? Say, ‘Hi’?” But when she remembers how she was molested at age 9 — how she was alone, unprotected and had no recourse — then her face shows grief that is still sharp and fresh.
Lubben survived by telling herself, “Just push it away” — don’t think about it. She hid behind sunglasses for eight years.
Seeing the Real Person
But if Lubben’s story uncovers the vulnerable interior of a hard and worldly woman, Mark Houck’s story shines a light on the other half of the porn industry: the consumer. Houck is a blue-eyed, baby-faced average guy whose openness illustrates another kind of disconnect: His porn habit nearly destroyed him because it was so very acceptable, so open.
For Houck, says director Finnegan, “[porn] wasn’t a massive problem or addiction. He wasn’t into anything weird; he didn’t lose his job. But it broke him down.” Houck’s story is remarkable in its banality: He was a football star, a good student, a hard worker, a decent guy. But he was exposed to porn at age 9, and no one told him he should stop — until, one day, he couldn’t. He looked in the mirror and saw that porn had become his whole life — and if that’s all it was, then why live?
The film is all about seeing the real person. “That’s what I wanted to come through,” said Finnegan. “The moral imagination allows you to see the significance of something beyond the immediate evidence. Porn takes away everything that’s significant about the person, about sexuality.” But even in the most casual encounter with porn, he said, “It’s not a victimless crime. Someone really had to endure this.”
Finnegan hopes that churches and other organizations dedicated to fighting pornography will use his film as a tool. He avoided compiling data and statistics to argue the case against porn, and instead presents real people who slump and shrug as they tell their stories; voices that occasionally crack with anger and grief, as well as laughter.
The documentary is also packed with professional insight: Judith Reisman, a world-renowned authority on the fraudulent world of popular sex science, gives her testimony, which is both academic and personal. Her own daughter was raped at the age of 10. She searched frantically for guidance, but got the same advice from everyone. They told her, “Well, children are sexual beings from birth” and “Your daughter was probably sending out vibes that she wanted it.”
Horrified, she searched for the source of these ideas. “I know a party line when I hear it,” she says cannily, in the film. Her research led her to Alfred Kinsey as the impetus for the sexual revolution, and she now works to expose what she sees as both his shoddy and perverse research and the damage done by his influence.
Another expert, psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, also offers insight which is both professional and personal. An experienced family therapist, he was baffled at the increase in young patients who were narcissistic and desperately lonely, suffering great emotional pain. Fitzgibbons found a common thread: His patients all sought “a temporary lift of spirits” through pornography. “It’s the temptation of the lonely,” he says in the documentary, but these young people “have no idea how to have a friendship.”
Lubben, too, says that her first attempt at healthy emotional closeness was “physically painful — it felt like a heart attack.”
The film is not easy to watch. As Lubben says, “There is a place that God takes you to heal that is dark.” But Out of the Darkness avoids both censorious sermonizing with bleak statistics and the titillating voyeurism of a behind-the-scenes-style exposé. Instead, it confronts an inhuman problem of enormous proportions by looking directly into human faces. And, ultimately, they are full of hope.
Fitzgibbons offers healing to his patients by teaching them about the nature of God’s love. He tells them that the first thing God said about them is: “It is not good for man to be alone.” True love isn’t inward-turned, he shows them: “Love is diffuse; it goes out.”
Lubben founded and now runs the Pink Cross Foundation, a charity “offering emotional, financial and transitional support” to porn workers and addicts; and Houck is co-founder and president of The King’s Men, which works to “unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector and provider.”
Finnegan doesn’t expect his film to vanquish porn. But he hopes that a few of the 40 million daily consumers of pornography will see these faces, hear their stories, and think twice before they “click on that site or press play on that movie” — before they continue in darkness.
Simcha Fisher blogs at NCRegister.com.
To purchase the DVD or schedule screenings: Anteroom Pictures