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Tape Movie Review & Film Analysis

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Tape, directed by Richard Linklater, is now a dated looking movie with both its early 2000’s fashion and its use of stars Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. Watching this, I wanted to rummage through my closet for an old pink velour sweatsuit and make a Sex and the City cosmopolitan martini. The narrative structure in the film broke down from the conventional in both the formal elements and its use of conflict; man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature and man vs. himself. Bust out those old JLo and Matchbox Twenty CD’s for their nostalgia and Uma, the #metoo movement is coming to help you and your character.

The movie Tape broke conventional ways of film making in its use of grainy digital film and that it’s shot “confined entirely within a single dreary motel room,” writes Williamson Balliet from The Focus Pull. Harry Ford, Ford on Film, responds, “In fact, Tape is close to qualifying as a Dogme 95 film, due to its low production values, lack of music, and simplistic camera movement”. Richard Linklater’s choice to not use music was again unconventional, focusing completely on the actors performances. When music can often be used to sway and manipulate the viewers emotions, the actors needed to connect to an audience without it.

Focusing on each of their circumstances as their stories unfold, different conflicts arise. Man vs. man plays throughout this story and is part of its narrative conflict. Vince (Ethan Hawke) and Jon Salter (Robert Sean Leonard) begin to debate their lack of commonalities and interests, Vince vs. Jon. This exchange highlights Jon’s delusions of grandeur. With Vince secretly recording their conversation and Jon’s confession, the conflict climaxes. After Jon’s admitting, out loud, that he had sexually assaulted a former high school sweetheart, Amy Randall (Uma Thurman), his internal struggle begins, Jon vs. Jon’s younger self. He tries to ensure himself, and Vince, that it was a long time ago and he was a different person. Amy Randall and Jon Salter’s conflict comes head to head when Jon admits what he did to her and apologizes, while Amy pretends to laugh it off and refuses to address and process this life event at that moment, Jon vs. Amy. The man vs. man breaks away from convention in this flick because we see a lack of resolve.

Man vs. society is yet another narrative conflict for these characters. Vince, a drug dealer, addict and volunteer fire fighter, will not amount to anything in his current state. Society will see to it he faces consequences, one way or another, if he continues living his life in such a way. Robert, if charges are brought, will also face his past deeds. A statute of limitations on rape could save him from too much exposure, but her being an assistant district attorney for the Lansing Justice Department is not in his favor. Amy Randall vs. society is the common judgement and ignorance the public can have towards sexual assault victims. Her job, as an Assistant DA, would allow her to see the many cases of woman and men who have accused and tried to have their abusers prosecuted. Amy would have seen, firsthand, that the degrading and berating treatment and questions towards the abused—also known as victim shaming—exacerbates the trauma they have already faced. The public outcry of the #metoo movement is trying to enlighten individuals, communities and organizations to their treatment of sexual abuse survivors.

One would think that man vs. nature would not present itself in this picture, it does only take place in a small, confined hotel room. Ethan’s addiction would be an example of Man vs. nature. Ethan’s drinking and using drugs are both based on his decision to not get help, as well as what’s in his DNA. What his parents and family chose as coping skills for their own injuries influences their offspring, and there is scientific evidence that desiring alcohol and drugs can be passed down through genetics. Nature vs nurture is an ongoing debate (Psychology Today : Nature vs. Nurture). Robert is also an example of Man vs. nature. The “boys will be boys,” based on their psychological and physiological make-up, is an ongoing conversation. This mindset is causing problems as we raise young men who lack self-control over their impulses. (Psychology Today : The Danger “Boys will be Boys”). Men have often argued that they “have to have sex” as if it’s as essential as oxygen, food and water. Addressing both of these issues in a movie, regardless of a person’s stance on the subject matter, was unconventional for its time.

The cinema is mostly about Man vs. himself. Ethan’s addictions are both physical and psychological. He turns to these poor coping skills and won’t address the underlining issues that keep him from facing pain (Psychology Today : Nature vs. Nurture). Robert vs. himself is an ethical issue. What Robert did is inexcusable and anyone with skeletons in their closet want some sort of free pass for past sins. Robert’s self-righteousness and “parenting” of Vince before the big reveal, shows how much work Robert has done to run away from who he was in the past, but still never truly facing that demon. Amy is blindsided by Robert’s presence in the hotel room and his apology and confession. Although we are left confused, and so is Vince and Robert, on whether Amy believes she was raped or if it was consensual, it’s really nobody’s business. She, the victim, needs to process that information and deal with what happened, or didn’t happen, in private with her own chosen support team, Amy vs. herself. A sexual assault victim has a constant inner battle, continually second guessing what they did or didn’t do and what they could have done or should have done different. Again, for a film, this subject being addressed in such a way was taboo for its time.

Each of the conflicts broken down all mirror society at the time of 2001, even the article’s responses to what Robert’s character did to Amy Randall, including Roger Ebert’s review of the movie. Amy’s response, during her assault, and at the revealing, is still all too common almost 20 years after this films release. The #metoo movement has just recently shed light on the sexual assault victims like Amy Randall and the real life Uma Thurman, who was also raped and sexually assaulted by numerous men. The audience was influenced to feel pity for Robert, knowing viewers with any previous transgression want freedom from repercussions, and that we are somehow entitled to it as we age. The ethical choice of Jon to sit and wait for the police is shown as courage and “doing the right thing” in the face of these allegations. If Amy goes home and takes another year or 10 years to process what happens and then brings charges against Jon for rape, is that deplorable? The effect of Jon’s assault on Amy will haunt her for many years and has, whether she knows it or not, affected her relationships up until this point, both physically and emotionally. The assault, if true, will continue to affect her and her relationships until she can healthily process what happened, usually with the help of a professional. Conflicts in film and in life will continue as long as there is suffering in this world. Each of us process trauma and pain differently and in our own time.  


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