T.here is a recurring theme in Phoenix Rising, the two-part documentary on Evan Rachel Wood’s story of domestic and sexual abuse by shock rocker Marilyn Manson, of the evidence. Wood, a 34-year-old actor, has old photos of her early relationship with Manson, whom she met at 18 in 2006 (she was 37) – cherub and adolescent first, atrophied and empty later.
The film selects from journal entries that recount her emotions as she pitted her against friends and family. There are so many press and paparazzi photos of them together, which makes audiences captivated by the couple – a gorgeous Hollywood Lolita with Central American nightmare in goth makeup – feeling even more nauseated now. While filming from 2019 until Wood publicly named Manson, named Brian Warner, on Instagram in February 2021, many more of Manson’s women and former colleagues have come forward with details that mirror his experience or corroborate his riddled memories. from repetitive trauma, sleep deprivation and drugs she says Manson forced her.
I can’t stop thinking about this evidence; most of the women do not have near the documentation that Wood has, as confirmation or support for their memories, let alone the material for the authorities. As we have seen over and over with the first-person accounts resulting from the revelations of the #MeToo movement, there is power and catharsis in disclosure, in telling one’s story. But despite Wood’s personal testimony, her processing years of memories through the language of trauma and therapy for herself and us, the pursuit of legal action – the backbone of Phoenix Rising’s narrative – boils down to documentation, files, photos, a case.
As the star of HBO’s Westworld, Wood has considerable power and little incentive to charge Manson on publicity grounds, as he claimed in a libel suit filed earlier this month (suitably timed, as Wood told The Cut in. earlier this week, at the release of the documentary). So it’s disheartening to see, over the course of three hours of film spanning months of work across the system, how little you change and how much it boils down to the perceived reliability of your story. To date, 16 women have accused Manson, 53, of sexual abuse – including Game of Thrones actor Esme Bianco, whose story shares striking similarities to Wood’s – and four have sued for sexual assault. Manson denied all charges and was not charged with a crime. His libel suit alleges that Wood and his friend, activist Ilma Gore, hatched a conspiracy to defame him and forged an FBI letter to back up Wood’s allegations. (Gore, Wood told the Cut, is no longer affiliated with The Phoenix Act, Wood’s nonprofit to change the prescription of abuse cases.)
Phoenix Rising, directed by Oscar nominee Amy Berg (An Open Secret, The Case Against Adnan Syed), is the latest in a series of documentary projects in the #MeToo era that have uncovered patterns of abuse by beloved public figures. , traced the long shadow of sexual trauma and outlined the cultures that turned a blind eye. This includes Leaving Neverland, the 2019 HBO series about two in-depth accounts of Michael Jackson’s alleged child sexual abuse; Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, on Ronan Farrow’s 2017 investigation of Harvey Weinstein, which helped ignite the recognition that has become #MeToo; On the Record, which follows former Def Jam executive Drew Dixon as he plans to tell his story of alleged rape by music mogul Russell Simmons to the New York Times. There’s Lifetime’s Surviving R Kelly, Showtime’s We Need to Talk About Cosby and Athlete A, about journalists, lawyers and gymnasts who denounced the systematic abuse of the cover-up of US gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser. HBO’s Allen v Farrow, released last year, was both an investigation into allegations that director Woody Allen molested his daughter Dylan, and a personal account of Dylan’s life warped by trauma, trials and years of public contempt and dismissal.
Some of these projects strike the balance between the disorder of experience, the often cyclical nature of pain and abuse, and the clarity of ethics better than others. Some are rightly aligned against retaliation. Everyone faces the legal and emotional consequences of coming forward against an important person. Different alleged crimes and contexts, of course, but they all have to do, fundamentally, with an intimate trauma: how it presents itself and transforms itself, how one lives with it, how long it takes to begin to understand.
Wood’s allegations are, to be clear, consistently horrific. These include: that Manson repeatedly drugged, manipulated and forced her onto the set of the 2007 music video Heart-Shaped Glasses and “essentially raped her” in front of her camera; that Manson controlled her eating, raped her in her sleep after he gave her a sleeping pill, tortured her with an electric device, beat her with “a Nazi whip from the Holocaust” while tied to a kneeling man and fed her methamphetamine and other drugs without her knowledge. In concert with many other women, some of whom appear in the film in an encounter, Wood outlines a pattern of love bombing, isolation, control and abuse.
Phoenix Rising, like the others, is based on disclosure, the catharsis that tells its own story and the difficult navigation of advertising. But it also feels like the extreme limit of what a #MeToo documentary can do. Five years of listening, five years of listening to the same type of patterns and recognition of how predators operate within cultures and systems, of how messy one’s personal life can be and in any case not diminish the violation. What do we do now? As the documentary shows, Wood managed to get the Phoenix Act passed in California, which increased the statute of limitations for domestic violence offenses from three to five years and required police officers to undergo more intimate partner violence training. . He collaborates with a LAPD investigation into Manson and gives an interview to the FBI, shown speechless in the film.
But it still comes down to attention. At the end of the film, fearing for her safety and hiding with her son in Tennessee, Wood decides that making a public statement is the best way forward. “If there is no public outrage about it and the crimes it has committed, and if there are no people coming forward, then there is no real incentive for law enforcement to do something,” he says during. the footage of his writing an Instagram post grenade. “And we could just wait in line at the DMV for two years waiting for something to happen.”
The Phoenix Act seems eminently reasonable, an opportunity to better shape the laws of human experience and what these films, long-running investigations, podcasts, testimonials hammer again and again: the trauma is disordered, idiosyncratic, changeable, chameleonic. The ability to see clearly is a slow process even with the privilege of therapy and time. “People underestimate the power of that kind of trauma and what it does to your body and brain,” Wood told Trevor Noah on the Daily Show this week. “This is what the laws do not reflect: the effects of trauma on the brain.”
Wood remained in Manson’s orbit for nearly four years; when he started working on the Phoenix Act amid the #MeToo movement, the statute of limitations in California was one to three years. “From one to three years I’m nothing to a survivor,” she told Noah. “He’s not close enough.”
Manson is still free (and collaborates with Kanye West), as is his right, as he has never been charged or convicted of a crime. Phoenix Rising, for all its messy and compelling personal elements, ultimately strikes this fact. When the criminal justice system ignores the long tail of trauma, what do you do? What is right, what is right? And is it worth it? Five years and many thematically similar documentaries, we still don’t have good answers.
Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organizations. In the United States, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In Australia, support is available on 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international help lines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html