"The story you're about to see is true," Laura Derns says in the new trailer for The Tale. "As far as I know." The HBO film, premiering May 26, tells the true story of Jennifer Fox, the film's writer and director. Specifically, The Tale, which has been described as a "cinematic memoir," tells her story of sexual assault, which she didn't remember until later in her life. In the movie, Jennifer, played by Dern, goes on a personal journey that will change her life forever, but also looks at the stories we tell ourselves to survive.
In the trailer, Dern's character Jennifer explains that as far back as she could remember, she was "obsessed with changing" herself. So much so, that she doesn't remember who she used to be. Through the course of the movie, the audience begins to understand why that is. It all connects back to her teenage years — young Jenny is played by Isabelle Nélisse — when she was coached by Mrs. G (Elizabeth Debicki) and Bill (Jason Ritter), who she trusted but apparently took advantage of her.
The Tale refers to a story Jennifer writes when she's young that she discovers holds more questions than answers about her past. But the movie also looks at how our memory picks and chooses what it recalls, perhaps, as a form of protection. But it's the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear, that will ultimately set us free.
In the movie, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Dern's Jennifer goes back to see Mrs. G to relive some of those days in hopes of understanding what it is she's trying to forget. In the end, the character must come to terms with the fact that her first sexual experience when she was 13 was rape, despite her thinking it was nothing but consensual.
In real life, Fox wrote about the experience of sleeping with her 40-year-old track coach for school in a story called "The Tale." The Los Angeles Times reported that Fox's teacher wrote on the story, "If this is true, it's a travesty. But since you're so well-adjusted, it can't be true."
According to the L.A. Times, Fox admitted, "The reason I put my name on [the movie] was so that nobody could say it was a lie. Nobody could chop the film down by saying, 'Oh, it's just fiction. Sexual abuse doesn't look like that.' I am here to represent that it does."
It took a decade for the documentary filmmaker to write and finally make this film, which is her narrative debut. Fox told The Hollywood Reporter that The Tale wasn't an easy sell with producers, but she's happy it didn't happen until now. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, it feels like the right time to be talking about this movie. “The world is ready to take a challenging look at this dark subject of child sexual abuse,” Fox said. “To us, it’s a miracle.”
Fox hopes the conversation surrounding this film will be openminded. "Abuse is complex," she told the L.A. Times, "and our society wants to make it black and white." People have reportedly walked out in the middle of screenings, and reviews of The Tale admit there are parts that are hard to watch, but that's the point. "Telling it complexly does not change the fact that it was abuse," Fox said. "When we simplify it, we hurt everybody."
With her movie The Tale, Fox is telling a personal story, but one that many people may relate to. Fox hopes that the film will let other survivors know they're not alone and that she believes them.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.