“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
In the midst of the #MeToo movement, more and more people are being made aware of the consequential design that a male-dominated structure in Hollywood can have on the equal employment of women and the abuses they are made to endure to even sit in the hallways of the Hotel lobbies. The Tale is a harrowing illustration of this. Without a focus on Hollywood per se, the film is told through the made-to-feel empowerment exploitative tactics by a couple of grooming experts who have sought a life of outrunning their former demons.
The Tale is about the future life of Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), a documentary filmmaker and professor, whose mother finds a story that Fox wrote concerning the weekends she spent with her former trainers as a pre-teen. With her mother seeing the events for what they were, Fox becomes obsessed in discovering the true, sinister-laid hidden dynamics that really took place. Having left only the memories of it being an empowering experience (“The story you are about to see is true. As far as I know.”), Fox reaches back to find that her childhood heroes where merely the instruments of sexual abuse fueling their depraved proclivities. It is a film, in the words of Rachel Syme (New Republic), that “lets moments hang, empty and nauseating, and allows characters to meet across time and cross-examine one another.”
Analyzed in exceptional depth by Alison Willmore (BuzzFeed), the film is “about denial as self-protection” and about a child who saw her respective place in the relationship as the “heartbreaker, not the victim.” A child who saw the strangeness of the situation, but fell into the intoxicating sense for belonging and appreciation. In the end, Fox was able to confront the reality of what really happened in a moment of cathartic rage and heartbreak. And still, the justice sought was left in wait. Syme again:
“In telling her story the way she does, Fox has done something unprecedented; she taps directly into the horror of abuse and leaves us with bloody, exposed guts rather than a storybook ending.”
The script and depictions were stark and moving, given in no small measure to the fact that the subject being abused has reconstructed the history from the vantage point of her own ability to uncap the truth and let reality unapologetically seep onto the screen. The cross-cultural moments in India were effective given the rampant and systematic problem plaguing that country. The classroom discussion offered a glimpse into the out-of-class methodology that Fox was forced to undertake in deconstructing the superficial gloss that she had placed over her childhood experience. Johanna Schneller (The Star) explains:
“As adult Jenny recovers memories, and interviews other women who were there, we see the dawning realization of her participation in the lie; we see her struggle to readjust her sense of self to accommodate the new truth.”
Perhaps nothing was more impactful in its gruelling autobiographical detail than the scenes where Bill (Jason Ritter) systematically grooms the young Fox (Isabelle Nélisse) into his bed. While shot in part using the Nélisse (at the time 11 years old), Syme offers some insight into how Fox ensured that the actress was psychologically protected:
“When it was [Nélisse’s] turn to shoot, Fox would give her gentle prompts, like to think about a bee sting or a scary dog. Fox kept an on-set psychologist on call, and took great pains to ensure that Nélisse felt comfortable and secure.”
The Tale tells of profound themes surrounding the idea of memory and sexual promiscuity triggered by former captivation: notions of monogamy and self-restraint coined old fashion in a meaningful exchange of ideas between Fox and her mother (Ellen Burstyn). That moment when Fox “realizes the extent to which Bill shaped her expectations about sex, and her ideas about relationships and children, long after she excised him from her life.”
The Tale tells of profound moments of self-discovery and the captivating urge to address the wrongdoing and make the accolades we receive for a job well done not be left without the mention of our wrongdoing.
The Tale tells of profound scenes of parental neglect and future guilt, seeing the signs, but being caught in the midst of self-created busyness or the want for one’s daughter to develop an independent streak.
While the overall quality of the film is consistent with my rating, I prefer to focus on its importance and to take nothing away from this film’s underlying gravity. The importance, as noted by Willmore, to focus our attention on the lives of those now speaking out and coming to grips with the reality of their former abuse:
“The Tale serves as an emphatic, self-contained argument that, rather than debating when various exiled men will be allowed to return to the spotlight they retreated from, we should shift our attention to the people those men targeted, looking not just at the experiences they’ve shared but at how those experiences exist within their lives.”
Beautifully put by Margaret Lyon (NY Times): “[t]he rapist will deny it, and it’s too burdensome and unwieldy to insist a survivor be its sole guardian.” The Tale is a sobering and timely film that needs to be seen and discussed from the standpoint of the victim and the curative nature that comes with unloading the burden of memory.