Memories inhabit people. They grow and transform, or remain frozen in an imprint of a past self. They are deposited in people, places, senses. When filmmaker Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) revisits a tale of her “relationship” with her track coach, she finds instead a barbed account of sexual and psychological abuse in her childhood. This is a true story rendered with a bravery that cannot but inspire. The American director, to whom the feature’s story belongs, has been tremendously courageous in painstakingly reviving this harrowing past.
Art about the sexual abuse of children does not always give a voice to the survivors themselves. Lolita, for instance, fixates on Humbert, the monstrous and calculating – but arguably charismatic – narrator. Here, the young Jennie’s suffering is laid bare. Filmed with a body double, scenes of the sexual interaction between the girl and her abuser are crushing. Audiences are brought closer than ever to the visceral devastation of this terrible crime.
At times, The Tale is an investigation of the past, a piece that digs for facts in the dusty corners of a mind that has digested them. Imagined interviews with those who surrounded Jennie are painful, revelatory, delicately and sensitively spun. They follow the solitude and sense of isolation survivors feel, gaslit by those who wish to brush their stories away. Fox’s tale unfolds jaggedly, juxtaposing past and present as scenes from her childhood are repopulated with key figures and interactions.
Laura Dern is magnificent. Her character refocuses her blurred past, yet the actress exudes a confidence and poise. The performer fills the character with a strength and anger that does not fear vulnerability, facing and processing. This is a hard balance to strike, yet Dern owns the role and the complex process of coming to terms, as best she can, with what she underwent.
The Tale is an inspiring film. In this moment in cinema, amidst the MeToo movement in particular, there cannot be enough exhortations to listen to and understand survivors of abuse. To blend this with confrontational art and excellent acting is a victory.
The Tale does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for The Tale here: