Notes on stories we tell
Thoughts on Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell
Left with so many thoughts after viewing Stories We Tell. Much of its power is it strict faithfulness to narrative convention, particularly progressive delayed reveal and basic traditional story arc, here expressed in an overlapping web of stories. It is primarily the stories of a woman, rather women and men made whole in the process of telling stories: most importantly perhaps the mother's life, but also the story teller (Sally Polley), as she builds together a cohesive story of the "truth" of her life. It is also the story of her father (Michael) who eventually recovers his spirit for life through the story, and it is the tragedy of the biological father and his moment of love and life of forgetting. (We are left thinking perhaps he is able to be friends with her but, if he loves her it is as a reminder of the lost one he does truly loved and continues to love.)
In addition to the webs of narratives, built up by webs of those affected and friends and relatives who have preserved – – through memory – – bits and pieces of the life stories, the film is also a conscious meditation on the power of film and story and story making.
Again through progressive reveal, we are given hints upfront at the films beginning that this project will lay bare the story process as we watch the set up of interviews and the subjects preparing for filming. By the end of the film, it is revealed to us that much (perhaps almost all) of the aged footage we have been seeing have been "re-creations"/imaginings of memories, so much so that as the film ends, we wonder – – is there any aspect of the film at all – – besides her name that hasn't been augmented – embellished or perhaps completely imagined?
All the possible lives lived and almost lived, told together at the same time: isn't that the "truth" of every life?
Is there really a documentary about her biological father the film producer that she chances to find after meeting him awhen he is eager to learn more about him, is the central secret of the affair and its aftermath and afterglow?
More importantly than whether any of these things are true – – and I have at least for the moment consciously avoided learning more about the real lives involved – –
Is the fact that the film opens the question and leaves us wondering about the creation of something still called "documentary" – – (or
Truth ) what tips the scale between fiction and that which we can call a true story? One imaginary character, is that too much? One imaginary conversation, is that too much?
The story announces itself as a search for truth and seems to reveal that telling and living the story is most important and that perhaps is the truth it offers.
I approach my own project with complete and utter occasional – –
fill in confidence, or, fear as appropriate.
I need encouragement constantly do believe telling a story is possible.
One of the things I was struck by early in the film, that by rooting itself in herself, her own life story, that she created a space in which it could not have errors, it is simply not possible, everything chosen is exactly what it is for the one first autobiography of herself that she makes. That is a indisputable truth.
It is a document and artifact that is exactly what it is, in much the same way that one cannot make an incorrect footprint or shitstain on a tissue. They are simply what they are, beautiful and not so beautiful.
I'm tempted to drop the project and write my own story told through movement of forms – –
Perhaps somehow I can do both; perhaps that is always inevitable every time we tell a story.