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Things Behind The Sun

     Things Behind The Sun, a 2001 Sundance selection which played Showtime before its current theatrical run, is a couragous fictional take by filmmaker Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging, Sugartown) on her gang rape at age 12, the repercussions of which won't go away. "I have dealt with my childhood rape in therapy, through acting out sexually, through self-medication," says Anders, now 46, "through spiritual work, by making public confessions, by every means possible, but I was still in a dark place. With... sexual trauma, I think what it does it just dominates your life."

     In recent years, beset by drinking problems, Anders determined to exorcise her demons. She returned to the place where the crime happened, a still-standing house in Cocoa Beach, Florida For healing, she opted to make a very personal film, fictional and yet close to the events that scarred her. The result is Things Behind The Sun (from a 1972 song by the cult singer, Nick Drake). Anders does herself over as a Florida-based rocker, Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens, a blonde Sheryl Crowe), whose promising career keeps being derailed by the singer's promiscuous misadventures and by her troubles with alcohol.

     Whom she will sleep with? Anyone, including encouraging a threesome with a couple of dim frat boys, except the deep, kind man who loves her, her manager Chuck (Don Cheadle, a lovely, self-effacing performance). As for her drinking woes, she gets especially shitfaced once a year and ends up trespassing on the yard of a stranger family, for which she is arrested and ordered to report to AA. What's all this about? In grueling flashbacks, we learn that the place of the trespassing - a recovered memory - is where McGrale was gang raped. Anders uses as a locale the very house where, more than thirty years ago, she had been victimized, and she plays again the song - Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina" - which she heard as various teenage boys sexually brutalized her.

     The movie plot: Sherry McGrale is hitting the charts with a song, "Never Knew Your Name," about her rape. Owen (Gabriel Mann), a senior reporter for a hipster LA-based music magazine, is flown to do a profile on her, because, as he blurts out at a staff meeting, he knows the real story of the rape. He certainly does: his incarcerated brother, Dan (Eric Stoltz), was the leader of the rapist pack. The most powerful scenes in Things Behind the Sun take place at a state prison, brother talking to brother with a window of glass between them. Stoltz is terrific as a sleek psychopath, a junior-level Lechter, totally unfettered by a trail of rape he left behind: he wants to know if his journalist brother has fucked rock star, Jewel.

     There are places that Things Behind The Sun tests credulity by a shoveling on of melodrama and masochistic suffering: for example, when it is revealed that pained Owen had been there at the original rape, and was more than an innocent. And for a movie which so delicate about the traumas of sexual encounters, what is that elongated LA bed scene about, between Owen and a bosomy female reporter? Gratuitous sex is just fine in lots of movies - who cares? - but it feels dank in a film about the consequences of rape.

(Boston Phoenix - November, 2001)

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