Stories We Tell (2012), directed by Sarah Polley
Noted as one of “The 21 Century’s 100 greatest films” by the BBC (2016).
“This wondrous, absorbing little picture covers a great deal of winding meta-territory, reflecting on the ways in which a single family’s story can be told—or maybe, more accurately, examining the idea that there’s no such thing as a ‘single story.’ […] Stories We Tell is, of course, Polley’s own story, an attempt to reconcile the fact and fiction of how she came into this world in the first place. Yet it’s anything but self-indulgent. She shapes the picture into a riddle that keeps us guessing every minute, and what she ends up with is so oddly shaped that it could be categorized as an experimental film. But it’s too warm, and too generous toward all its players, to be off-putting. There’s no way, Polley concludes, to tell a reliably true tale.”
At its most basic, this is a story of a mother’s life as seen through the eyes of those who were closest to her. It’s also a story about secrets. Maybe it’s even a story about stories, observing and commenting on the lack of unified narrative that exists between each of our individual variations of the past and how we perceive the fallibility of our own memories. If the story at the heart of the film was one shared by you or I, it would be incredible—it is mythology come to life. But that story, I find to be hardly the most interesting thing about Stories We Tell; its questions are what linger with me.
I don’t think it’s unnatural to interject oneself into Polley’s position, and I’ve found myself doing so today: Is there a story I hope to tell, myself, and if there were what might that be? Does my family have a story worth sharing? Do I? Am I curious to learn anything specifically about my own family members? Through all of that I’m left wondering what might my motivation be in taking such a journey with them, to collaborate, edit, and share something that could serve as a point of Legacy. For me, in pausing with these questions I feel a certain sense of ego taking over: I don’t know that I want the answers inasmuch as I’d like to be recognized as the one who brought the answers to life. I wonder if that consideration was ever part of Polley’s process.
By her own account, the film is filtered through its director’s agenda, explained as an attempt to allow for equally weighted narration in collecting the foundation for what might serve as her family’s capital-s Story. There were many challenges that Polley faced with the creation of the film, and one noted by (her dad) Michael Polley draws attention to the reality of the final version of this story—or maybe of any story—calling it as “farcical” a construct as each of the contributing individuals’ interpretations of their slowly fading memories.
I’m not sure where this goes from here. It’s a lot to consider and since watching the film last night a lot of thoughts have crossed my mind. It’s my sister’s birthday today, and late into the night last night I retraced memories of us together as kids. Some of those memories are of moments that happened 25 years ago. I wonder how accurate they are. Is there any benefit in finding out? I began looking at some old newspaper articles about my dad this afternoon. Do those stories stay contained to the past, and if not, what would the benefit be of exploring them together? Maybe so I could better understand the world he lived in, or the world I was born into? Maybe.