There is nothing worse than child abuse of any kind - physical, psychological, sexual. It’s a demonstration of power perverted, of adults taking advantage of impressionable and vulnerable minors in the cruelest, most shocking way conceivable. For a long time, it was a hidden shame, the subject of hush-hush whispers across suburban fences and the occasional sensationalized nightly news broadcast. But sometime around the mid ‘80s, the cause of exploited children everywhere gained a massive international profile. Today, we’ve gone to the opposite extremes, making the protection of kids our main social priority. No longer is the subject pushed back into the shadows of family scandal. Instead, it’s offered up as a kind of callous cautionary tale, a reason for mothers and fathers to stay ever vigilant - both of their own actions, and the unforgiveable acts of others.
So where does this leave a movie like Precious (actually entitled Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire)? Within its undeniably powerful narrative and bravura performances is something so dark, so literally unwatchable at times that the level of pain which our overweight teenage heroine endures seems worse than inhuman. It’s beyond Herculean and almost otherworldly in its terrifying truth. But this raises another, almost unthinkable issue. Why? Indeed, why does an audience have to sit through what ends up being nearly two hours of emotional and physiological torture for a final pronouncement that seems to do little except confirm the hopelessness of the situation? While amazing acting and concise direction can carry us past such problems, the overwhelming bleakness of being dragged through this character’s unfathomable torment leaves you feeling stained…and unsatisfied.