Take a guess: What percentage of convicted sex offenders will go on to commit a second sex crime? If you named any figure higher than 5 percent, social science says you're wrong. But don't worry, the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't know the right answer, either. More than 100 court decisions around the country, including from the high court, have cited sex offenders' supposedly "frightening and high" threat of reoffense in justifying the increasingly sadistic punishments the country inflicts upon them.
David Feige's documentary examines how this class of untouchables came about. Driving the narrative is the startling figure of Ron Book, whose daughter was horrifically abused by the family's female nanny for six years. The film opens on the father's pain, still raw decades after the fact, as seen in his eyes, both distraught and deranged.
There's a seemingly intimate scene of Book getting ready in the morning, where we see him shaving, with his shirt off, his middle-aged body exposed to the camera. What's jarring is that he's standing in a gorgeous granite bathroom. We see shots of his case of expensive watches, then of Book getting dressed in walk-in closet that puts any Men's Wearhouse to shame. It's a portrait not of an aggrieved father willing himself out of bed each day, but of a general preparing for battle.
Book is one of the most powerful lobbyists in Florida, and since his daughter's abuse, he's been on a mission to keep kids safe from sexual predators. That's how he describes it. As the film shows, the swaths of legislation that Book has pushed have done more to make sex offenders' lives miserable than to actually protect children.
"Sentence them to waterboarding every day, throw the keys away," Book says at one point. "I used to be a liberal Democrat, and then a crime hit my family, and I realized just how conservative I was."
The quote encapsulates our national attitude toward sex offenders, one that relegates them to a monstrous, subhuman class. We see this in neighborhood "predator patrols," in state-sanctioned sex offender tent colonies, and in the eagerness with which politicians of all stripes invent new scarlet letters with which to brand offenders. We see it, too, in the three registered sex offenders whose stories are interwoven throughout the film, themselves victims of a society that would rather they disappear and die than offer treatment, rehabilitation or, God forbid, compassion.
Anyone familiar with these arguments will quickly realize that Untouchable isn't treading new ground. Still, the filmmakers exhibit considerable deftness in tracing a character-driven historical arc that helps makes sense of this deeply discomfiting subject.
Screens at MCT Sun., Feb. 19, at noon.