“The Devil’s Playground”
Fred Schepisi who went on to direct “Roxanne” and “The Russia House” has now had his first feature film, “The Devil’s Playground” released on DVD. It is based on his own experiences in a monastery when repressed desires meet the doctrines of Christianity and collide. It is the coming-of-age story set in an Australian Catholic Boy’s School and went on to win five Australian Academy Awards.
With a name like “The Devil’s Playground”, it is naturally expected that there will some very sexual material here and Schepisi went as far as the censors would allow him. There are so many stories of what goes on in boys’ boarding schools and we see here that some of what we have heard is indeed true.
The “devil” seems to prefer to work at night or in the shadows where young boys on the verge of puberty discuss the strange things that are happening to their bodies, masturbation and wet dreams. When the Christian brothers are questioned about such things, they tell the boys to use more self-discipline and to pray against committing sinful acts. The brothers maintain a strict disciplinary code but it does not solve all of the problems. The sins of the flesh are heightened in the film by the amount of flesh bearing that is done.
It is not just the boys that succumb to temptation. We see the brothers dressed in civilian clothes enjoying nights out on the town and visiting the local bars. The film documents the strengths and weaknesses of life within the Catholic educational system and although we see the problems, we are given no answers. We do, however, get the idea that Schepisi finds the system to be lacking.
We know that it is impossible for pubescent males to remain sexless, especially when they are living in close proximity to others. They are not taught about their bodies and they have not much of an idea what is happening. There is little privacy at school and even though we see this in a movie, we must remember that this also happens in real life. The director’s attempt was to give us a picture of life as it really is and even though the film was made in the 70’s. it is still very relevant today. The emphasis in sex is realistic—by refraining from sex. it does mean that it is not being thought and wondered about. Civilized men who live in a closed society can lean toward some kind of sexual outlet and the setting can very well influence their views.
I understand that the film is semi-autobiographical and Schepisi has directed it in grand style. It is interesting and thought-provoking and does shed light on what really goes on behind closed doors.