Laura Dern’s new film is set to be one of the most important of 2018

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Moya Crockett
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The Tale, Laura Dern’s new film about sexual abuse, is already getting rave reviews.

The first trailer for The Tale, Laura Dern’s critically-acclaimed upcoming film, dropped this week. While it’s not an easy watch, it also suggests the film will be an essential addition to the ongoing conversation about the effects of sexual trauma.

Written and directed by Jennifer Fox, The Tale tells the true story of how Fox uncovered memories from her childhood and teenage years involving sexual abuse. Dern plays Jennifer, a 50-something filmmaker leading a relatively content life until her elderly mother calls to say she’s found a short story Jennifer wrote as a child (“the tale”).

The tale appears to indicate that Jennifer was a victim of grooming and sexual abuse, but she doesn’t remember this – and she fiercely rejects the word “victim”. What she does remember is the positive relationship she had with Bill (Jason Ritter), her running coach when she was a child and adolescent, and her riding instructor Mrs G (Elisabeth Debicki).

In Jennifer’s youthful mind, these were simply two attractive, compelling adults who took her under their wing, but the tale suggests the truth is much darker and more traumatic than that. Over the course of the film – and the trailer – we see her attempting to piece back together her memories from her childhood and adolescence to make sense of what really happened to her. 

Jason Ritter as Bill and Elisabeth Debicki as Mrs G in The Tale

The issue of repression and childhood sexual abuse is a complicated one. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the majority of people who are sexually abused as children do not completely block out those traumatic memories. However, they may frame the experience in a different way in their minds as a way of coping with it, and only begin to process the reality of what happened to them once they reach adulthood.

Memories can also be shaped by the influence of abusers, who are often skilled at manipulating victims into believing that what happened to them was consensual. The Tale tackles this complexity by suggesting that Jennifer has not really forgotten her past, but is instead on a mission to understand it as an adult.

“There is a consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them, [but] they may not fully understand or disclose it,” states the APA.

The Tale caused a stir at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and has a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating it hasn’t yet had a single negative review. Despite creating Oscar buzz, however, it was eventually picked up for distribution by HBO. Collider reports that this surprise move was down to Fox wanting her film to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

The film will air on HBO on 26 May. Watch the trailer below. 

Images: HBO