“The body remembers everything, it really does,” says the imperious riding teacher Mrs. G (Frances Conroy) to her former student Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) as the latter guides a horse around its paddock with ease. The Tale is a film about how right, and how wrong, that statement is. The real-life Fox, who spent decades as documentary filmmaker, wrote and directed this searing investigation into her own memories of a sexual relationship she had with a grown man when she was 13 years old. The Tale, which is Fox’s narrative feature debut, visualizes the way the director’s recollections had bent around the disturbing realities of her past. By jumping back and forth in time, Fox works to piece together how her teenage self turned a troubling affair into something comforting, and considers the aftershocks that can result from unearthing buried trauma.
The Tale was a hit when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January; it got quickly picked up by HBO Films and will air Saturday night on HBO. Debuting as it did when the #MeToo movement was continuing to gather steam in Hollywood, Fox’s movie is an intensely relevant work that examines how the dark dynamics of authority play into sexual abuse—particularly within the world of athletics, where the trust between coaches and students can be easily exploited. Just as pertinent, though, is the movie’s efforts to understand how memory gets papered over, and how people can explain away their most obvious suffering, even to themselves.