Things Behind the Sun Movie Review

Allison Anders not only has enough balls to revisit one of the worst experiences of her life in Things Behind the Sun, but she travels through emotional territory normally unheard of in films based on rape -- namely a male character who is a victim and a perpetrator at the same time.

As a woman, it is always difficult to watch a movie involving rape. When filmed realistically, as Things is, it's impossible to distance yourself from the onscreen pain. And when a film is not constructed with realism the result is anger from shoddy storytelling, or with a filmmaker failing miserably to grasp the emotional honesty in a situation they can't understand.

Owen (Gabriel Mann) works for a music magazine. A colleague wants to do a story on Sherry (Kim Dickens), whose music has become popular on campuses after building a following through the Florida bar scene. Sherry's songs are filled with emotional pain, based on having been gang-raped at a young age. Owen not only knows her, but he was a forced perpetrator of the crime by his elder brother Dan, (a chilling cameo by Eric Stoltz) so he ends up taking over the story.

Sherry doesn't appear as a victimized angel like other women have in films about rape. She makes herself easily available for sex, especially after alcoholically anesthetizing herself, despite the efforts of her well-meaning boyfriend Chuck (Don Cheadle). She treats her fellow band members like peons. And for some reason, once a year, keeps passing out drunk in front of a house she can no longer recognize.

There is a fascinating emotional struggle as Owen attempts to help Sherry remember the details of her worst experience, supposedly for her sake but also to purge himself of the guilt that still doesn't allow him to achieve orgasm. After all, it is Sherry that initially influenced his appreciation for music, and hence his adult life. It's understandable that he would feel as if he owes her some peace. Unfortunately, he cannot define what will give her that calm, so this assistance is also pushed away.

Sherry's turnaround to work for a healthy life is a bit forced, possibly because after showing one self-destructive scene after another this change seems so quick. By the same token, you need her to find some inner strength, or the film becomes depressingly unwatchable.

This is a hard film to watch, and yet it adheres to a perspective important for both men and women to see. It's not a story of good versus evil, though it's based on a horrible crime. Films like The Accused are powerful in that they comment on the short-term effects of rape -- namely the immediate needs of the victim. What sets Things Behind the Sun apart from such predecessors is that it takes these stories one step further, to the severe aftermath of living with these memories years later.

Comments

Things Behind the Sun Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2001

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