Review: Tape (2001)

One room, and a whole lot of emotional damage!

Screenplay By: Stephen Belber
Directed By: Richard Linklater

Emotional honesty is tough to pull off in real life, perhaps even tougher on film. In real life we can make ourselves a part of the equation, but we still have no way of knowing if those we are interacting with are being emotionally honest. On film the characters engage, but for as invested as we may be as viewers we are an eternal outsider. There’s no way for us to insert genuine emotion into a scene, a moment, or a film. Thus, we are left with but one course of action; to allow the film to play out and to see emotional honesty where we believe it to be present.

In a movie like Tape that task is all the harder. Richard Linklater’s film, based on the Stephen Belber stage play, is about the masking of emotional honesty. The film leaves no doubt that at various points in the film each of the three, and only, characters are being disingenuous. As outsiders we do not know when those moments are exactly, and my interpretations of the individual moments of the film could be well off. Still, I believe in the moments of disingenuous emotion that I saw on my TV set. Mr. Linklater didn’t need to spell the emotional lies out for me, because they were right there on the screen for my eyes to see.

Emotional truth was also present on my TV screen. And that begs the question, how does one go about distinguishing from emotional honesty and emotional dishonesty when every moment is of heightened emotion? The answer to that is simple, but not one that most people are going to want to hear, we go with what our emotions tell us. I choose to believe that in the final moments of the film Jon was being emotionally honest. I do not believe he was playing an angle or trying to get in the last word. He was being honest with himself and everyone else in that hotel room.

A different viewer could read Jon as dishonest in Tape’s final moments. That is not a weakness of the film, rather it is a strength. Mr. Linklater doesn’t really do much to the film other than to impose his style of allowing for characters to exist and by doing so to breathe and speak in such a way that they fill the camera just by their mere presence. By taking a more hands off approach Mr. Linklater sets up emotion as the end all and be all of the film. He sets up the open interpretations of the characters emotional states. At any given moment any character in Tape could be read as honest or dishonest, and the film revels in that state of existence.

The three actors in Tape all do a fine job (although I will admit the mannerisms of Ethan Hawke did become a wee bit strained at times). This is their film more than anyone else and they play their roles to magnify the emotion found in the script. With so much emotion present in the script and the acting it is fitting that Mr. Linklater doesn’t try to heighten the emotion through any showy measures. His hand is steady, his camera guides the viewer through a world of emotion that is hard to take in and even harder to decipher.





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