Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell is as much about how we interpret images – what we take as “true” – as it is about how we remember. Through a close analysis of the film discuss what you think the film sets out to do and how it achieves these aims. In answering this question you might also want to look at reviews of the film.
The truth is subjective and how we see the truth impacts the way we understand meaning. Each individual’s memory is a result of what they deem to be true. Sarah Polley questions this concept through her film ‘Stories We Tell’ and brings to light the topic of reliability and subjectivity in terms of memory and the truth.
Polley highlights the notion of truth and how each individual sees it differently. In her film, she denotes that in order to understand the truth and its subjectivity, stories must be seen, heard, and told (Vulture 2013). The interviews depicted in Stories We Tell allow the audience to absorb the subject as well as witness each character revisit the past and see it in a different light. This is shown near the end of the film where each character is seen reflecting on the subject of their mother, reflecting on their “private memory, his or her ‘truth’” (Vulture 2013). Through presenting this near the end of the film, it allows the audience to register how subjective the truth is, in that although they all spoke about the same topic, the way in which they reflect on this is entirely associated with what they remember.
What we see is not always what is true. While watching the film, the audience is captivated by the “archival footage” shown while Polley’s family members and friends recall what kind of person her mother, Diane, was. Initially, we as the audience do not question the footage, as it is acts as a supplement to the subject. Once it becomes apparent that most of the old family footage was actually actors portraying a described reality, the audience is forced to question whether this has had an effect on their meaning and subject of the film. It brings to light the idea that in film, everything we see is orchestrated. In that, everything we see is what the director wants us to see. Joye Weisel-Barth (p. 164, 2014) extends this further noting, “what I know and will take away will not be “the truth”; it will be the truths that Sarah has provided and shaped for me and that I have accepted”. Polley herself affirms this, saying that “the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down… and many of our stories…end up with shifts and fictions in them, mostly unintended” (Stories We Tell 2012).
Polley’s direction of the film directly impacts the way the meaning it conveys. David Edelstein (Vulture 2013) draws attention to the film in that is has “no ambiguity whatsoever about what happened and why”, and that Stories We Tell “is actually a rare instance in which ¬multiple perspectives dovetail neatly”. This particular stance on the film is interesting as it is true. Everything we see...