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Movie Review: The Tale

Author: Tsara Shelton
Author Contact: @TsaraShelton on Twitter
Published: 7th Apr 2021 - Updated: 6th Sep 2022
Peer-Reviewed Publication: N/A
Additional References: Entertainment Publications

Summary: A personal review of HBO's film The Tale .

Main Document

The Tale is a film written and directed by Jennifer Fox that tells her true story of learning to understand that a relationship she had in her youth, with a riding instructor and a running coach, was actually childhood sexual assault.

The Tale told me a beautiful story about two people choosing to love each other so deeply they, despite never being able to physically touch, embrace unraveling a dangerous memory together, sharing each other's version of the same tale and guiding themselves to a place where their different conclusions connect cohesively. Without ever being able to touch they hold each other up, challenge excuses and listen to reasons.

The Tale is an HBO film, written and directed by Jennifer Fox. Based on a story she wrote (which is read throughout the film) in eighth grade about a relationship she had with two adults, it is a late in life realization and exploration of abuse.

One reason this film feels authentic is it is authentic. Inclusion in storytelling is of such value because when people write, draw, direct, sculpt, and sing from a place of personal experience we are given an even greater gift than when we're shown a story that was told to the storyteller. Not that we shouldn't try to tell each other's stories, just that we need to include more diverse storytellers when and where we can.

This film uses it's medium powerfully. In the beginning Jennifer (played by Laura Dern) remembers the unusual relationship from her past in flashbacks and sees herself as older than she was. However, after seeing a photo of herself from the year she's remembering the actress playing her younger self becomes a different actress to reflect her actual age. It's brilliant.

When we're young we don't feel young, especially in our early teens. I have memories of things I went through in those early teen years I would more properly remember when my own sons were those ages. Looking at them, knowing them, suddenly my real life flashbacks needed different, younger actresses.

Jennifer's mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) begins this dive into the past when she finds the story written by her daughter back in middle school. She pushes them to discover what happened, ready to break open her own complicity, allowing the hurt to happen in order to come to terms with the fact that she didn't protect her daughter. Perhaps, in an effort to protect her now.

The story of a young girl being taken advantage of sexually by adults is not unusual. And sometimes I think we then tell these stories with an idea we can include everyone, connect with everyone, and make everyone see what we're trying to say. However, I think by being so personal and revealing, Jennifer's story does that in a way trying to do it misses. When we try to talk to everyone we miss an oportunity to be specific and raw. Yet often it is in the specific and raw we find understanding.

The Tale brings us into the specific and raw. It shows us, makes us see; importantly, truthfully, uncomfortably, and powerfully we see.

We see him look at her with love. She sees him look at her with love. We hear the sweet words, the gentle tones, the story he's telling her of taking care of her. She hears it all with us and we understand her confusion. But we are adults and want so badly to reach out to her, to explain to her: no, no, no, this is not love. Even if he believes it himself in this moment. Even as you feel it must be because you're paid so close attention to. No, this is not love.

I don't want to give away more than I already have but these important moments - using the visual medium of film to show us inside of ourselves and the characters - happens incredibly throughout The Tale. Not in a confusing funky psychedelic way, but in a how memory works way.

If you are a woman this movie can be important for you. Admittedly, I watched it with my partner and I'm not sure if he got something as powerful as I did out of it. Wait, I'm going to go ask him.

Be right back. [Elevator music]

Hi, I'm back. So it turns out he thinks it's a good movie as well. The story was uncomfortable and he felt angry and disgusted by the abuse, but it also brought back memories of times he's seen things that are reflected in the film. Not the actual abuse, but little things that happen leading up to abuse, things that are noticed by some adults who are then put in a position to react. Sometimes by pushing people away, sometimes by turning a blind eye, and sometimes by becoming an abuser.

In my opinion The Tale is an important film that encourages sophisticated conversation about abuse. It tells a beautiful story of reaching out to a younger version of yourself and working together, of loving each other so deeply you're willing to unravel memories without a need to judge each other but in the interest of understanding.

It is not a beautiful reason for a story, but it is a beautiful story.

Learn more about the film on IMDB

Author Credentials:

Tsara Shelton, author of Spinning in Circles and Learning From Myself, is a contributing editor to

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• (APA): Tsara Shelton. (2021, April 7). Movie Review: The Tale. Retrieved May 27, 2024 from

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