The scene is intimate. It is invasive. It is painful to watch. That’s in part because it is shot so unsparingly. But it is also because the assault Bombshell’s camera depicts is not physically violent. The abuse here is psychological. Kayla, without realizing it, has walked into a battle for her dignity. The writer Jill Filipovic explained the scene’s power like this: “Reading about sexual harassment dulls it. Seeing it is a crucial reminder of how repulsive and destructive Ailes, and sexual harassers like he was alleged to be, can be.”
So it is notable, in that regard, that the woman in the scene is one of the characters in Bombshell who is not based on a specific person. Kayla Pospisil, played by Margot Robbie, is instead a composite figure—a woman woven from the stories of multiple real-life people. She is the product of a literature review, basically: Kayla’s experiences in the film are summaries of several of the allegations made about Ailes in sexual-harassment lawsuits that Fox News employees brought against the network. Her character is also informed by interviews Bombshell’s filmmakers conducted with many of the women who made those claims. While nondisclosure agreements have kept many of those women publicly silent, Kayla, in a sense, gives them a voice.
Kayla is one of three women at Bombshell’s center; the other two are Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman). Bombshell is a work of uncanniness. Starting with the makeup that transformed Theron into Kelly, the film’s pleasures and its indictments come in large part through its painstaking re-creations of real-life people. Kayla, though, suggests the limitations of the simulacrum. It is revealing that one of the main characters, in this film that has marketed itself as a retelling of the sexual-harassment story at Fox News, is a work of fiction.
But Bombshell is primarily Kelly’s story. She is the one who is capable of breaking the movie’s fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience. She is the one whose arc, in the film, bends the most sharply. There is an inherent challenge in that arrangement: To tell the story of workplace sexual harassment through the experience of Megyn Kelly is … to tell the story of workplace sexual harassment through the experience of Megyn Kelly. It is to have a tale told by a narrator who is, if not fully unreliable, then deeply fraught.
Read: Megyn Kelly’s original sin
Bombshell nods to that tension. It features a brief clip of one of Kelly’s more infamous on-air moments: her glib insistence that “Santa just is white.” The film also features, along the way, assorted acknowledgments of the Fox News complicity machine—chief among them, representations of the many women at the network who had succeeded within its rigged system and who therefore had a vested interest in maintaining that system as it was. (If you are not a fan of Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host who recently wrote a book titled Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, Bombshell provides several scenes that will leave you feeling fully vindicated.)