Tape, 85 mins, rated M 15+, opening in cinemas in Sydney on 20 March and Melbourne on 27 March 2003, other cities to follow


Tape is a filmed version of a one-act stage play written by Stephen Berber.  It is a three-hander staring Ethan Hawke (Dead Poet’s Society, Great Expectations), Uma Thurman (Dangerous Liaisons, Pulp Fiction, The Golden Bowl) and Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poet’s Society, Much Ado About Nothing).  The film takes place entirely within one room and there are no characters apart from the three stars.

The film-makers, including Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) have chosen to film on digital video, and in real time.  This gives the film a rough, grainy look which seems to suit the grungy setting – a room in a “Motor Palace” in Lansing Michigan, where the three characters, Vince (Hawke), Jon (Leonard, looking like a young Sam Shepard) and Amy (Thurman) meet to reminisce about their high school days a decade ago.

Tape explores the phenomena of memory and perception.  Each character has their own version of what happened one night, 10 years ago.  Vince, a small-time drug dealer who seems never to have gown up, confronts Jon, now an aspiring film-maker.  Vince questions him about what happened the night Jon dated Vince’s girlfriend Amy.

Vince badgers Jon about the details of that night, framing his question in many different ways.  It is a masterly cross-examination.  Eventually Jon concedes that: “By applying excessive linguistic pressure, I persuaded her to have sex with me.”  From that concession, it is only a short step for Jon to admit to raping Amy, using physical force. Vince then reveals that he has taped that confession.  But when Amy arrives, she doesn’t see the events of that night in quite the same way…

Tape asks the question:  if you do not remember or perceive events as happening a certain way, does that mean they did not happen?  Lawyers, of course, are familiar with this phenomenon: that the same events can be seen and interpreted in many different ways.  This idea has been pursued in film before, notably in Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1951).  Judges struggle with the problem every day: a witness honestly gives one version of an event or conversation that took place in the past, but it is only one version, and is it the true one?

Director Linklater makes sure there are no distractions from the text and the performances.  Each of the three young actors gets a chance to shine in this simple, but fascinating, film, which asks the age-old question “What is truth”?

© Michèle M Asprey 2003

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