Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
David vs. Goliaths:
Twist of Faith
7-27-05 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Twist of Faith is the harrowing documentary of Tony Comes, a firefighter from Toledo struggling to overcome
the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Dennis Gray, a Catholic priest and the struggle to maintain his
religious beliefs because of it. The film, which was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary earlier this
year, has been showing all this month on HBO. It also plays a theatrical engagement in Chicago this week. It’s a
tough, unstinting look at this dreadful subject but thanks to the inner dignity of the brutually honest Comes (and the
restraint of director Kirby Dick), the film doesn’t ratchet up the sensational aspects of its subject.
At the film begins it appears that Comes has it all – he’s a handsome man with a pretty, supportive wife, two
beautiful children, a good job. In short, the Good Life. But all hell breaks loose when he accidentally learns that
the priest who he says abused him 20 years earlier moves in five houses down the block. Overnight, Comes, who
had only shared his secret with his wife, decides to out himself as a victim of sexual abuse. His anger, apparently
long buried, surfaces and soon his relationship with his wife, children and family members (especially his mother)
begins to suffer.
There is a scene early in the film, soon after Comes learns about Gray living down the block, where he quietly
approaches the house on a late winter night, under cover of darkness, video camera in hand. “That’s where the
Devil lives” he says as we hear the wind howling and lights twinkling inside. As Comes becomes more angry, has
more and more trouble dealing with the mixture of guilt and confusion, not to mention the denial and cover up from
the Catholic church, it becomes apparent that at the end of the day, that he’s truly alone, outside in his own dark
night. Even after going public with his story and meeting up with several of the priest’s other abuse victims (both
straight and gay), Comes seems to be on his own, flailing about, trying desperately to hold on.
The documentary does a good job of balancing Comes’ mixed emotions – including his continued challenge to stay
with the church that has turned its back on him. This reminded me of the excellent Tying the Knot documentary, in
which a gay couple is determined to marry within the Catholic church despite its stated policy of intolerance for
gays and lesbians. At the height of his anger and public awareness of his accusations, Comes is still there for his
young daughter’s communion, following the ancient Catholic rituals.
Even more moving are the complex emotions that arise watching Comes as he struggles with the alternate
revulsion/stimulation of the abuse. In graphic terms he describes the residual guilt he still experiences from the
illicit sexual encounters. And though Comes is straight and clearly not homophobic, he’s also honest enough to
recall the physical pleasure of the abuse. This is the first time I can recall this aspect of abuse being so openly
Periodically throughout the film a videotape deposition of Gray, now an ex-priest (having left the priesthood to
marry!) is shown and his bland answers to the inflammatory questions contrast with the continued emotional
outbursts of Comes who, having let the secret out, can’t seem to move forward with his life.
Earlier this summer director Greg Araki’s Mysterious Skin took the horrors of two young men scarred by child
abuse and somehow, miraculously made art out of their terrible experience. But Twist of Faith doesn’t have the
luxury of fiction. There’s no haunting Harold Budd-Robin Guthrie soundtrack, no eerily beautiful cinematography,
expertly crafted performances or perfectly written last scene. As Twist of Faith so vividly reveals, there is no end
to the abuse. Ever.
HBO delivers another documentary knock out