If you watch to the end of the credits of The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open, you will see the dedication come up. It says “For Her And Others Like Her”. I think this quote perfectly captures why not just independent filmmaking is an important cultural touchstone, but even why just being able to tell a story such as this can reflect and impact a society. So, what do I mean by that? First off, the dedication is nameless. Not a parent, not a child, some other person who has influenced you, it’s “For Her”. Nameless. Unknown. Forgotten. Invisible except to those who make the effort to look, acknowledge and respect all of the circumstances that brought them to the place they’re in. So this is a story for someone unable to speak up for themselves. To help them feel acknowledged. Not be invisible. Not be pushed down. That they have value. Then, “Others Like Her”. An acknowledgement that it’s not just one person’s story. That it’s not unique. That all the storyteller can do is put this out there and hope that it might help someone, somwhere, sometime.
Hope is one of the stronger themes in The Body Remembers…, which tells its story in (mostly) real-time of Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Aila (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers), two indigenous women who meet by chance on a rain-soaked Vancouver night after Rosie flees her abusive ‘lover’-whom she refuses to call a ‘boyfriend’. Aila, seeing a pregnant Rosie barefoot on the sidewalk being yelled at across the street from where she has just fled, takes her back to her own apartment and encourages Rosie to seek some kind of help or safety. And that is basically the whole movie, yet that description completely understates the magnitude of history and societal experience behind what brings them together. There is this constant feeling of past memories that reverberate into the present with how Aila and Rosie interact with each other and inform the choices they make. Aila hopes that Rosie will be safe, make a choice to escape an abusive relationship. Rosie, in a wonderful performance by Nelson, constantly hopes things will be different if she goes back or that they aren’t as bad as she says, yet you can see how much she struggles with being honest with herself in the wavering of her eyes or the twitch of a lip. But in reality, she knows no other life than the one she has. Her first exposure to something different is Aila’s small yet clean, immaculate and private apartment. So when I say that it is important to be able to tell a story such as this, that is what I am talking about. That for someone to be shown that there is something else that they never imagined. That something could be different. That something could be better. That they might be able to respect themselves when no one else does and hope that they escape the prison of hurt they have known before their body bursts apart. For anyone who has been impacted by abuse, The Body Remembers… weaves its many narrative threads and themes in a very realistic fashion.
One of the more heartbreaking moments comes as Rosie leaves the safe house Aila convinced her to look at, and as they are leaving one of the counsellors casually tells Aila how common it is for someone to leave and that it can take six or seven times before they decide to stay, if ever. The tragedy of this moment as you realize it’s not just her this is happening to, but for all the others like her is profound and painful. It hurts because Rosie has just told us about how it hurts to brush her hair because of the bruises from her lover’s knuckles. She has just seen a comfortable bed so she doesn’t have to fall asleep in front of the TV with her boyfriend’s grandmother. A private room so she doesn’t have to pretend to be asleep. But for Rosie, her experiences haunt her mental and physical capacity so much that she doesn’t have the capability to move on. And while we only have a small inkling of Aila’s background, we sense that she has if not experienced this much herself, that she certainly is well aware in their collective memory that Rosie’s tragedy is not unique; and that she has personal experiences that surface up in her as well.
The intimacy of The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open film is also brought forth in the way it is filmed to feel like one continuous shot. Compared to another recent Oscar nominated film that used this technique, The Body Remembers… bests it in every way by making it feel as if you are just a silent observer watching everything unfold but unable to help. So everything from noticing Rosie sit down on the bus, to your eye following someone else leaving the elevator and coming back to her, following as they scatter for safety while looking back to see if we’re being chased or even just getting into the backseat of the cab as they drive across Vancouver really supports the story instead of taking away from it or feeling like a stunt. We don’t always see what’s happening, sometimes we observe things that others miss, or just hear the tail end of a conversation as we follow a character out of a room, all of which just enhance the realness that they are trying to convey. Now, can I see how some someone expecting to see a tightly plotted movie where things consistently happen after a set number of minutes to advance the story might wonder why they should watch this? Yes. Can I relate to a long pause between strangers sitting at a table who don’t know what to say to each other? Seeing as I have trouble carrying on conversations with people I know at a dinner table, that would be a definite yes. If drama is life with all the dull bits cut out, The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open destroys that by showing that there can be just as much drama in those dull bits than we think. Do I think that The Body Remembers… is a more emotionally impactful and realistic way of showing class struggle and the inequity of society than another recent Oscar winning on what was probably one-tenth of the budget? Yes again. The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open shows just how much fear and courage it takes to be able to come out and make a change or tell your story – whatever that may be. For better or for worse. And that is why stories like this need to exist. For Her and Others Like Her.