CW: sexual assault
I don’t know what else to say. There was something that was at the back of my head that has always haunted me for my whole life, and I had not been able to share it because I was so afraid of what people would have made of me since. But as you continue reading this, I want you to imagine this, from my own perspective. During my high school years, I was still closeted for my sexuality and then there came a point in which a nameless face that is stuck in my memory had caught me out of the blue and forced me to strip down and lean against the wall, telling me that if I were queer, I would be feeling something more from his fingers running through my body. I still have memories of the experience ingrained into my head, but at this point I had made myself forget the face because I don’t want it to haunt me. It was haunting enough that it was an act to truly test if I were really a queer, for I had already been threatened to be outed in that moment. I was scared for my life. When I watched The Tale, I already felt so much of the most painful memories flashing right back to me, something I thought I had suppressed so far into the back of my head, and it was all the more difficult.
Based on writer-director Jennifer Fox’s own experience with child sexual abuse at the hands of a former coach, The Tale explores how her own psychological growth has been damaged as a result of what she had felt from the memory, after it was incited back by a discovery by her mother. This discovery is none other than an essay entitled “The Tale,” which Fox had been writing since the age of 13. After this discovery, Fox recalls memories of her own youth in which she was sexually abused by a former coach while she was spending her time at summer camp. The film, structured akin to an investigative thriller, only shows itself at some of its most psychologically complex work that goes down to the bones about what it feels like to have been a victim of this sort of circumstance, whether it be within the moment or having to live with that memory for the rest of your whole life. But having such a story told like this only gets down to the bone of how complicated one’s emotions are after having gone through such an awful experience. There is no clear answer, and Jennifer Fox taps into that with such sensitivity.
This is an important film to watch for many reasons. It is an important film to watch because of how prevalent sexual assault is within our society, from places where we least expect it. It is an important watch because a film like this helps us understand how the pains of sexual assault affect victims long after the incident. How such incidents have affected the way in which we grow up psychologically, and how such incidents only find themselves biting back at times where we know we would not want it to. In Laura Dern’s performance as an adult Jennifer Fox herself, I found myself thinking back to that time in which I was placed within that position, terrified for my own life. To others, we only see something of this sort as being an open secret that has gone out between perpetrator and victim but said outlook is only harmful in ways that we don’t even realize for the victims. It is all just “the tale” to them, but for Jennifer Fox it wasn’t just that. It is a trauma that only hits back when she knows that the perpetrators have still reassured their prominence in some way or another. Something that only Fox would know, having experienced this trauma herself – but who is there to listen?
In that sense, you have a story built around how people at the time were willing to listen – because they don’t hear said incidents in the same way that the victims have done so. Fox gets down to the bone of how frightening it is to carry such a story, because there is always that fear it will only be dismissed because the perpetrator is someone with more power over yourself. It all results in the most heartbreaking moment of the film, which is none other than the ending – because a suppressed fear has been tapped into once more, in an attempt to confront the source. Do we know what happened with Jennifer’s story? In that moment, I thought to myself about what could have happened if I were to tell my own story about what I had felt. I felt a certain pain that I thought I would never experience in that manner, especially so early in my life. I felt that something was being stolen from me. But would you believe me, for every second of my life that I would be scared in which my privacy had been broken away from me? Would you believe me, when I tell you about what I saw in that moment? Would you believe the humiliation that I had suffered long since and had been too afraid to talk about?
I don’t know if I can say it any differently, because watching The Tale, knowing a story like this would be seen by those who are so quick to judge for themselves as an “open secret” without ever really doing anything beyond that can show people what it was like to have felt something of this sort coming our way. If my perpetrator were ever going to read this, I want to say that I remember everything that you had done. How you violated me, still managed to get away with it. I do not know your name, but a time will come in which you know we will bite back. I remember what it felt like, and I have certainly not suppressed it away so easily. As I write this, I think about how you, a nameless individual to me, had me hanging right for my life, hiding behind numerous other faces in the crowd because in that moment, I had never felt more humiliated than I ever have been. I remember everything that you did to me. I may not have the strength to confront you yet, but someday you know it will be coming your way.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via HBO.
Directed by Jennifer Fox
Screenplay by Jennifer Fox
Produced by Lawrence Inglee, Laura Rister, Oren Moverman, Jennifer Fox, Sol Bondy, Simone Pero, Mynette Louie, Regina K. Scully, Jason Van Eman, Ben McConley, Lynda Weinman, Reka Posta
Starring Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, Frances Conroy, John Heard, Common, Ellen Burstyn
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 114 minutes