There are few subjects as abhorrent to our sensibilities as incest, particularly when it involves very young children, and <i>Just, Melvin</i> chronicles a truly monstrous case. The film tells the story of an individual whose path of destruction was so insidious and devastating that it’s almost impossible not to be provoked to feelings as varied as sympathy, rage, and disgust. That this is not an account by an outsider but the story of a survivor makes it all the more remarkable and significant, but not any easier to digest.
James Ronald Whitney is the grandson of Melvin Just. His mother was abused and molested from a very early age, as were all her sisters and step- sisters. And as we consequently discover, the same is true of all the women in Melvin Just’s second marriage. This litany of violation and mistreatment is especially disturbing because the film has an odd, almost-matter-of-fact tone. There is no need for dramatic histrionics. The reality of these confessions makes us witnesses to violence that is frighteningly genuine. The confessions themselves were perhaps triggered by the reopening of a case involving the killing of a social worker, a murder that undoubtedly was the act of Whitney’s grandfather.
That the filmmaker was the subject of abuse and managed to “escape” his madly dysfunctional upbringing is only one of the many elements that make this film so intriguing. But <i>Just, Melvin</i> is a story that will never have a happy ending, a chilling and candid portrait of the cycles and consequences of abuse.
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