‘Happy Valley’ poses difficult questions, perseveres in truth

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Urmilla Kuttikad

Happy Valley treads on dangerous ground. In late 2011, Jerry Sandusky, longtime assistant coach for the Penn State football team, was charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse. Not long after, it was uncovered that Joe Paterno, legendary head coach of the team, was aware of some part of the abuse but never did anything more than report it to his superiors.

The story is a tragic one that many have tried to forget. Happy Valley, however, is adamant that it remain at national attention. It forces us to reconsider the issue, the merits of trying to learn and improve from a national tragedy, the drawbacks of acting like it never happened. It examines the culture of football in the place popularly dubbed “Happy Valley,” home of Penn State, asking difficult questions as to whether the culture enabled the abuses to continue.
What the film does brilliantly is remain truly unbiased. For every lawyer it interviews who talks about cover-ups and immoral behavior and the power of Penn State football culture, it also shows an interview with Paterno’s wife, who tells us how her husband was fired over the phone in a two-minute call after 40 years of giving everything he had to the school.
Happy Valley humanizes people and perspectives you don’t want to humanize, and in doing so, it does the true work of a documentary by championing the case that there are no blacks and whites in life, only greys. But most importantly, it reminds us that though forgetting may be easy, doing everything we can to learn from the past and persevere in the struggle for truth, as difficult as it may be, is the only way forward.
By Urmila Kutikkad