Things Behind the Sun (2001)

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For the past few years, singer/songwriter Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens) shows up at the same house out of control and completely drunk. Just what is going on, and why does Sherry do this on the same day year after year?

In Things Behind the Sun, Sherry sings and writes music that is deeply personal and filled with raw emotion. Her most notable song about getting raped as a young girl is getting a lot of play on college radio, and the music magazines are starting to take notice of her.

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Owen Richardson (Gabriel Mann) is a rock reporter with a vague connection to McGrale. He mentions to his editor (Roseanna Arquette) that he knows who raped Sherry, and she assigns a story to him to profile this up and coming singer with the tortured past.

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Getting to Sherry for an interview is not easy. First, Owen has to deal with Sherry’s immensely protective manager Chuck (Don Cheadle). Chuck’s protection goes beyond the professional realm. Chuck and Sherry used to date, and Chuck still has feelings for her that are often put to the test when he sees how quickly she can degrade herself. Yet, he also knows this degradation is the consequence of her being violated so many years ago.

After some finagling, Owen finally gets his chance to talk to Sherry and possibly interview her for the magazine. Despite their past friendship, Sherry barely recognizes Owen. This is partly due to being in a drunken haze most of the time and also due to trying to bury the past.

But Sherry soon realizes who Owen is as he drops hints of their childhood friendship and their shared love of music. In fact, Owen probably wouldn’t be a writer without Sherry’s influence. But unfortunately, Sherry and Owen’s past also deals directly with Sherry’s rape. It was Owen’s older brother Dan (Eric Stoltz) who initially raped Sherry, and then forced Owen to violate Sherry, too. Will Owen’s confession further scar Sherry’s emotional wounds (and his own, too)? Or will it lead to some much needed healing for the both of them?

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Things Behind the Sun could easily fall into Lifetime movie territory, but in the expert hands of the woefully underrated Alison Anders, it never does. Anders herself was a raped as a young girl, and bravely captures the raw degradation of sexual violence and its fall out. And though the ending is slightly pat and tidy, most of the film is raw and riveting. Most of this is due to the very honest performances. Dickens is brutally real as Sherry, victim and victimizer. Mann makes Owen sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. Cheadle is at turns nurturing and tough. And the late Elizabeth Peña brings a compassionate pathos as the current owner of the house where Sherry was raped. Dickens and Peña’s scenes are brief, yet commanding. In fact, Things Behind the Sun is a deeply potent film that combines tragedy and healing one that truly makes you think.

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