Review: Audrie & Daisy (2016)

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That moment when you just want to punch a Sheriff in the face!


Directed by: Bonnie Cohen & Jon Shenk

Accountability isn’t just a word, it’s much more than the letters that form something written on a piece of paper, typed on a keyboard, or uttered in a conversation. As we grow up the hope is that we will be taught all we need to know about accountability from the parental and authority figures in our lives. For a concept as big as accountability there is no end game, but rather a series of lessons that are needed for us to become better people. Audrie & Daisy is a film about accountability, but not in the way it seems on the surface.

Jon Shenk & Bonnie Cohen haven’t made a film about the collective whole of rape culture, or even about the individual victims and perpetrators of rape. Those elements are within Audrie & Daisy, they are plain for all to see. They are, however, not the main course. Rather, they are the garnish, the little bit of flare that provides a pretty accompaniment to the true reason the plate is sitting in front of us.

The meal provided by Audrie & Daisy isn’t a good one, at least not in the traditional sense. It isn’t appealing, goes down rough, and leaves us with a stomach all tied up in knots. That’s what happens when the subject matter at hand is rape, and the underlying message is one of the accountability a society must face in regards to rape. Each moment in the film is like a bite of a meal past its sell-by date. It may look delicious and pretty on the outside, but each swallow reveals a harsher truth about the food in question.

The method used to divulge these truths is that of free reign. Shenk and Cohen take a step back, like jockeys who trust their horses to know where they are going. Every once in a great while they ask a question and tug on the reigns. It’s never a harsh tug, but more of a simple gesture meant to calmly lead the person being interviewed down a path they chose before the cameras even started rolling. Otherwise they leave their interviewees to sink or swim based on the words they themeslves choose.

The most important of these interview moments occurs with the Sheriff of Nodaway County, Darren White. A portly gentlemen, White presents himself as ever the smooth character. He has all the right things to say, and the longer he sticks around the movie the more he pushes the idea of his own infallibility. As the rape case involving Daisy Coleman begins to unravel, so too does the snake oil salesman that is truly Darren White come to the forefront.

White bellows about accountability and scoffs at the idea of rape even have occurred. He does all this of his own accord. He is a salesman who has been led towards a pier with a guaranteed sale at the end of the plank. White marches towards the end of the plank, sure of himself and his measured responses. He’s so sure of himself that he doesn’t notice the end of the plank. So sure of himself that he walks off the end of the plank and falls into the water to be ripped apart by the shark that is the mirror of the camera, all the while still selling his oil that no one wants to buy. He’s sure of himself though, and that’s all that matters, because in the world of Darren White accountability isn’t about right and wrong but about ideas that shift the blame to those who lack power.

The technique of stepping back and allowing subjects to decide their own fate isn’t new. Such a technique is a documentary given at this stage in the game. That doesn’t change how deftly Cohen and Shenk employ said technique. They get person after person to talk into the camera and reveal all that we need to know about them. Good, bad, and everything in between is revealed. The subjects don’t realize they are revealing anything, and that is a testament to the steady hands shown in the direction of Cohen and Shenk.

Those of us with a pulse and a brain know that rape is bad. We know that the criminal justice system of the United States of America loves to victim blame when it comes to rape. Nothing new is revealed in Audrie & Daisy as far as those aspects are concerned. Newness isn’t what the film is about though, it’s all about accountability. Exposing the bad definitions of the word, revealing who is truly willing to show accountability over their lives, and much more. Audrie & Daisy pushes at the societal bubble surrounding rape culture and allows its authoritarian subjects to damn themselves through their own lack of accountability.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

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