The Meeting – Review
Kate Duffy, Catriona Kenny & Grace Hughes
MA in Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice, Maynooth University
The Meeting is a powerful story based on true events, which we watched and discussed as part of our master’s module, LW687 Restorative Justice. It depicts a dramatised, realistic retelling of a victim-offender mediation in Ireland. Ailbhe Griffith (who plays herself) is the survivor of a harrowing sexual assault and elects to meet her offender, Martin Swann (Terry O’Neill), nine years after the attack. In a bid to humanise her assailant and heal from her trauma, Ailbhe demonstrates strength as she faces down the monster that is sexual violence. This tense and empowering film demonstrates the effectiveness of restorative justice in the wake of serious crime and sexual violence, and highlights its benefits for the harmed and the harmer.
The introduction of this film brings viewers on a haunting journey through what happened to Ailbhe, furnished with brief glimpses of evidence and statement extracts. The cinematography is cold and empty. The statement extracts are boldly stretched across the screen.
The camera focuses on specific, agonizing sentences, blurring the background to make these stand out even more. This makes looking away an impossibility. A brutal reality emerges when graphic, breathtaking images work alongside this statement to tell the story. This compelling, intense introduction utilises a dark, barren bus stop and discarded keys to create a high level of tension, while we are left feeling apprehensive about what will come next.
A woman standing naked in a cold room, followed by a photographer loudly capturing photos, leaves viewers with an overwhelming sense of shock. Each scheme is depicted from moment to moment; the tone is cold. It is both powerful and chilling. We discover the story behind the pictures, and then the person behind the statement. This realistic element escalates the distressing and foreboding feeling the viewer experiences.
Moving to the mediation session, power emanates from Ailbhe as she describes in detail her journey towards recovery in the aftermath of his attack. Colourless and cruel, the world around her seemed meaningless. While she admits to losing herself following their brutal encounter, it did not destroy her. She is titanium and he, tin. Blurred close-ups of the participants and other focused camera shots embody the tension felt around the small, circular table.
Her statements pierce the silence initially offered by her rapist, but eventually elicit a fractured response that lacks emotional acuity. Attempting to relate their experiences as similar, he draws the rope of trauma connecting them closer by presenting a glimpse of his own history. Offering minimal substance for the reasons behind what happened, Martin laments his lack of what he deems a ‘normal life’.
The gravity of their meeting swells as the group takes a brief break, creating an uncomfortable moment of anticipation for the viewer. More than anything, we seek an answer to the potent question: why her? Upon Ailbhe’s return, we finally begin to hear his response. Unyielding, she listens as he recounts the events of that night from his perspective, and we stand beside her.
Misogyny laces his tongue. Angered by his own lack of ability to relate to women, her shoes captured his rage. Yet, the reality is it could have been any woman. Ailbhe just so happened to be at that bus stop. His search for ‘normality’ peaked in his perceived entitlement to her body, but Ailbhe does not fracture in the face of this truth. As the rope connecting them frays and eventually unravels, this meeting empowers her to embrace her future: never completely free from the scars of trauma, but ultimately stronger having humanised the monsters in the dark.
Throughout this film, one gets the impression that it is important to Martin that Ailbhe know the steps he has taken to try and lead a truly ‘normal’ life since the night of the attack. Martin shares with Ailbhe that he no longer consumes alcohol, has difficulties securing employment due to the sex offenders’ register, and is pursuing a new educational course, through which he found a support network of new friends.
It is from this divulgence of Martin’s rehabilitative progress that a respite in the interminable tension of the film arises: they share a joke about a darkly ironic recent event from Martin’s personal life in which a female friend asked him to walk her home safely, and he did so. While this unexpected injection of humour provides the viewers with a welcome intermission in the otherwise trepidatious atmosphere of the film, it also serves a much greater symbolic purpose.
It symbolises the efficacious outcomes that restorative justice can have for both victims and offenders. It is not merely the restrained laughter between Ailbhe and Martin directly following the joke, it is the process of healing contained therein. The dialogue between Ailbhe and Martin, facilitated by this victim-offender mediation, gives way to truth, recognition, understanding, humanisation, compassion and, ultimately, a degree of reconciliation. The joke shared between them symbolises how they no longer exist on a dichotomy of ‘victim’ and ‘offender’, but somewhere along the complex continuum of human nature, within which the harmed and the harmer can help each other heal.
At the close of the film, we see Ailbhe leave the darkness where her trauma dwells. She says goodbye to her suffering, and those who helped her get through it. Walking into a place of light and peace, colour is restored to her vision, and the burden is lifted from her. The anger given to her has been returned to her attacker as she moves a step closer to achieving closure. Upon our realisation that the mediation has benefited both parties, viewers breathe a collective sigh of relief. By the end of the film, it felt as though this weight was also lifted from our shoulders.
The restorative encounter in this film depicts the empowerment possible for survivors of sexual violence in our society. It emboldens us not only to stand with the survivors, but to tackle our collective trauma head-on to restore harm and achieve peace. In short, this film demonstrates the ability of restorative justice to transform trauma into healing.
You can watch The Meeting here. You can also listen to a podcast in which Ailbhe tells her story, alongside Dr. Marie Keenan, here. See here for a previous blog by Dr. Marie Keenan, who was Ailbhe’s support person during the mediation.