×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Things Behind The Sun

A bruising, personal film based on the early-adolescent experience of director Allison Anders, "Things Behind the Sun" centers on the meeting between two people scarred by childhood rape. Slow-burning drama steadily accelerates a sense of indignation but less stable with its psychological perspective, which may dampen critical response.

With:
Sherry McGrale - Kim Dickens Owen - Gabriel Mann Chuck - Don Cheadle Dan - Eric Stoltz Carmen - Elizabeth Pena Pete - Rosanna Arquette Lulu - Alison Folland Denise - Patsy Kensit Judge - CCH Pounder

A bruising, personal film based on the early-adolescent experience of director Allison Anders, “Things Behind the Sun” centers on the meeting between two people scarred by childhood rape and their struggle to piece together the past and move on. Slow-burning drama steadily accelerates a sense of indignation and horror but seems on less stable ground with its psychological perspective, which, along with some too tidy narrative solutions in the final act, may dampen critical response. However, its fine performances, keen evocation of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles and potent emotional kick should provide some theatrical leverage for this digitally shot production.

Following “Grace of My Heart” and “Sugar Town,” this is Anders’ third consecutive feature to deal directly with music industry figures. And while music has been a key element in all of her films, the placement of both newly written and carefully chosen existing songs here to help shape character and mood is exceptional. (Driving original tunes are by indie band Sonic Youth, while notable use is made of forgotten hits by ’60s group The Left Banke.)

Rather than just being sprinkled in arbitrarily to lift the pace, or to sell CDs as is too often the case, the songs here serve to show the powerful effect music can have on people, as comfort, release, therapy, memory, escape or as a point of connection.

Central figure in the drama is hard-living smalltown singer-songwriter Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens), now starting to get wider attention with an emotionally exposed college-radio hit about her fragmented memories of being raped as a young girl. This newfound success appears to have little impact on her life in Cocoa Beach, Fla., however, where she is arrested for drunk and disorderly behavior three years running on the same date and the same suburban lawn.

When a Hollywood music magazine decides to profile the singer, talented reporter Owen (Gabriel Mann) lands the assignment after confessing in an editorial meeting that he knows who raped her. Gaining access to Sherry despite the fierce vigilance of her manager and former lover Chuck (Don Cheadle), Owen discovers how little she actually recalls of the incident and of her past in general, given that her post-rape adolescence was spent in a dazed stupor.

Slowly, he sends out oblique hints about his connection to her, gradually bringing back recollections of their friendship in school and her visit to his house one afternoon where Owen’s sleazy older brother (Eric Stoltz) and his stoned friends brutally took advantage of her. As the full circumstances resurface, it becomes apparent that Owen also has blocked out painful details concerning his own role in the events of that day that left him similarly damaged.

Scripting with her “Border Radio” and “Sugar Town” collaborator Kurt Voss, Anders’ primary theme is the need to return to the past and unearth suppressed memories in order for healing to begin. While this is standard movie-of-the-week fodder, the raw treatment and controlled intensity here set it apart, as does the extension of the film’s gaze beyond the rape victim to examine also how the experience can affect men who are involved.

Where the film runs into trouble and stands to provoke knee-jerk opposition is in its treatment of Sherry’s post-rape sexuality. The singer’s need to degrade herself in violation scenarios in order to be turned on will be tough for most audiences to accept, Anders’ authority through firsthand experience of childhood rape notwithstanding. (This material is mild, however, by comparison with the psychologically abhorrent and dramatically exploitative take on the subsequent sexual preferences of a rape victim in “The General’s Daughter.”)

Clumsy writing further encumbers this strand when Sherry — whose failure to work through any of her problems has been established — launches improbably into therapy-speak about the rapists having colonized her desires. The script also becomes simplistic and Hollywood-pat in some of the wrap-up, with Owen giving up music journalism for more noble pursuits after filing a full account of the events and rounding up other rape survivors in order to keep his brother in prison, where he’s doing time for armed robbery.

But despite some questionable choices, the complex, moving drama has considerable emotional impact, thanks in part to the general sobriety of Anders’ approach. This is reflected too in the strong cast, ably led by relative newcomer Dickens.

Playing a character prone to drinking binges and out-of-control behavior, the actress nonetheless conveys the woman’s pain, anger and tragic vulnerability in quietly measured terms that make her performance all the more affecting. Dickens also makes a convincing rocker during her onstage musical numbers. Sherry’s singing voice was dubbed by Kristen Vigard, who stood in for Ileanna Douglas in “Grace of My Heart.”

Mann has the weakest role but he creates a sensitive, sympathetic character, while Cheadle continues to prove himself a singularly resourceful actor, bringing a poignant sense of Chuck’s loyalty to Sherry, his deep emotional investment and his urge to protect and nurture her.

Some cast members from previous Anders films appear briefly: In addition to Stoltz, who gives a tough turn as an irredeemable lowlife, Patsy Kensit plays a club-owner and Rosanna Arquette turns up as the cynical magazine editor. Also in fleetingly, Elizabeth Pena has a beautifully gauged scene as a woman now raising her family in the house where Sherry’s rape took place.

While the freedom of shooting on digital often encourages directors to keep the camera constantly on the move, Anders and d.p. Terry Stacey instead opt for a restrained approach, effectively letting the action play out within a comparatively calm visual field.

Things Behind The Sun

Production: An Echo Lake Prods./Sidekick Entertainment production. Produced by Dan Hassid, Doug Mankoff, Robin Alper. Executive producers, Gary Barkin, Peter Wetherell, Marla Grossman, Joseph Rice. Co-producer, Rick Dallago. Directed by Allison Anders.

Crew: Screenplay, Anders, Kurt Voss. Camera (color), Terry Stacey; editor, Chris Figler; music, Sonic Youth; music supervisor, Howard Paar; production designer, Jeffrey Scott Taylor; set decorator, Vera Mills; costume designer, Jody Felz; sound (DTS), Dave Arms; assistant director, Jamin O'Brien; casting, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith, Kerry Barden, Mark Bennett. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 24, 2001. Running time: 117 MIN.

Cast: Sherry McGrale - Kim Dickens Owen - Gabriel Mann Chuck - Don Cheadle Dan - Eric Stoltz Carmen - Elizabeth Pena Pete - Rosanna Arquette Lulu - Alison Folland Denise - Patsy Kensit Judge - CCH Pounder

More Scene

  • Amy Poehler Is Ready for a

    Amy Poehler Is Ready for a 'Parks and Rec' Reunion

    Is Amy Poehler just getting our hopes up? We hope not, because the funny lady tells Variety that she’s ready for a “Parks and Recreation” reunion. More Reviews Film Review: 'Springsteen on Broadway' Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical “I am technically available,” Poehler said on Monday at Smart Girls’ 10th anniversary celebration dinner. “I have [...]

  • Meredith Walker, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler,

    Inside Amy Poehler's Smart Girls 10th Anniversary Dinner (EXCLUSIVE)

    “I’ve made an observation I’d like to share. I’m the only one that’s eaten my crab cake,” joked Amy Poehler as she addressed the room during the round robin introductions being made at her Smart Girls 10th anniversary dinner on Monday night. The 16 women at the table, who were so enthralled in the conversation [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron, Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de

    Alfonso Cuaron Says 'Roma' Is Better in Theaters

    Director Alfonso Cuaron opted to work with Netflix for his latest film “Roma,” but the decorated filmmaker isn’t discounting the importance of a big-screen viewing. “The complete experience of ‘Roma’ is unquestionably in a movie theater,” Cuaron said Monday night at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles for the premiere of “Roma.”  More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • Dylan O'Brien, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett,

    Travis Knight on Getting the Call to Direct ‘Bumblebee’: ‘Did You Guys Get The Right Number?’

    “Bumblebee” director Travis Knight admits he couldn’t believe it when Paramount Studios and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called him two years ago, asking him to helm the upcoming “Transformers” movie. “My initial question was, ‘Did you guys get the right number?'” Knight joked at Sunday’s premiere of “Bumblebee” at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “You’ve seen [...]

  • Director Peter JacksonWarner Bros. Pictures THEY

    Peter Jackson Talks Transition From 'Hobbit' Movies to World War I Documentary

    Peter Jackson remains a bit astounded at his transition four years ago from the Shire of Middle Earth to the French battlefields of World War I. Jackson introduced his documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” Friday night at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, four weeks after it aired on Armistice Day on the BBC. [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • Children's Defense Fund

    Angela Bassett, Conan O'Brien Honor Young Students at Children's Defense Fund Gala

    Awards season may be right around the corner, but on Thursday, Hollywood took a break from the glitz and glam to celebrate five high school students who have excelled academically despite facing extreme adversity both at home and in the classroom. The 29th annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center featured [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content