Things Behind the Sun (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

We agree that this obscure film is an unheralded small-audience masterpiece that digs deep into the soul of the auteur. You have to be pretty damned jaded not to be moved by this one.

Scoop's comments in white

Things Behind the Sun is an excellent movie, but one so intensely personal that it is uncomfortable to watch. Writer/Director Alison Anders was raped when she was 12 years old, then brutally manhandled by a stepfather until she ran away from home at 17. This period in her life left her damaged in many ways, and she has probably struggled to cope with and understand the damage to this very day. She took all of the outrage and sadness about her interrupted childhood and put it into this semi-autobiographical movie. Your emotional reaction to this film will be even further intensified when you realize that the rape in the film was shot in the very same house in which the director was actually raped as a child. Talk about drama as catharsis.

Kim Dickens plays the rape victim, the character who serves as Anders's alter ego. She's the lead singer of a garage band which has started to attract some notice on college radio stations because of a cult hit which is really about the rape incident. The group has become famous enough to attract the attention of a magazine like Rolling Stone. One of the magazine's writers realizes that he knew the lead singer when they were children, and endeavors to write the definitive article about her burgeoning career. In reality, he had once been her best friend in childhood, and was later one of the boys who raped her. His big brother engineered the rape, and forced the younger brother to participate after the older boys were finished. The brutal incident affected him as much as it affected the rape victim. As we join in on the present time, he has never been able to make love to a woman at all, and she has spent her adult life getting drunk and re-enacting the rape with multiple strangers.

When the writer arrives to begin the interviews, he realizes that the woman doesn't remember anything about their childhood friendship, and has repressed all specific memories of the rape itself. The singer thinks at first that his real agenda is simply her music, so her attitude toward him keeps shifting as more and more is revealed.

This film has a very economical script and a gritty feeling of reality to it. The first half doesn't establish much emotional connection to the characters, but the second half is intense, involving, and sad, although it does leave a bit of room for hope at the end. I really found myself being impressed and drawn in by the stark honesty of the script, and I recommend it freely to anyone who finds the description appealing, but I have to caution you that the film has some limitations:

  • Anders couldn't get the funding to shoot it on 35mm, so the entire project went to DV. The cinematography is quite competent, even inspired, but it definitely looks cheap and homemade.
  • It is a movie about a band with limited talent. The film shows them playing much more of their music than necessary, including full-length numbers. The way I see it, if the film is about Mozart or Ray Charles, load up on the music, but if it is about a garage band ... well, there's only so much garage band music I can handle. Show me a little if you must, so I can get the points that need to be made, but don't drag it out.

DVD info from Amazon

  • no widescreen

  • weak video - shot on DV

  • feature length commentary by the director

  • interviews with the director, musical group, and some actors

  • audition footage


Allison Folland shows her breasts in a sex scene.

Kim Dickens shows everything, including an open-leg scene, in a dark three-way sex scene. She shows her breast again when she is dressing in the morning, then again in a shower scene.

Tuna's comments in yellow


Things Behind the Sun (2001) is an Independent film from writer/director Allison Anders, in large part based on her own rape at a very young age. As the film opens, her alter ego (Kim Dickens), passes out drunk on the lawn of a house. We have no idea why. We soon learn that she doesn't either, but this is the third year in a row that she has done this. Normally, she is kept busy being the drunken lead singer of a band whose music, in large part, talks about her gang rape as a young girl. The rest of her time is spend being a pain to her manager and wannabe savior and lover, Don Cheadle.

Meanwhile, an LA music reporter helps his girlfriend champion a project to interview Dickens. The editor wants no part of the travel budget until the writer mentions that he knows who the rapist is. He is assigned the story, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend who unearthed it.  So the scribe is off to Florida. Along the way, he visits his older brother in prison. Through a series of flashbacks, we eventually learn all about the gang rape, actually one of many committed in the house, all spearheaded by the older brother. As if gang rape weren't enough for a 12 year old to endure, she also ended up with VD, leaving her sterile. From that point on she could only be intimate with men she didn't know, always more than one at a time, and always restrained.

This is not a typical rape story where the victim is a sweet, sympathetic character and all of the rapists pure evil (although the older brother is pretty much all bad). Rather, we see that the experience turned the victim into a dysfunctional adult, and that she was not the only one permanently affected. The film takes place long after the rape, and shows the lasting effects of this crime. 

Things Behind the Sun was shot on a very aggressive schedule on digital video, but is technically sound. Since both leads are part of the music business, the songs and sound track were very important, and Anders got clearance on an amazing number of songs for the soundtrack. All of the performances were spot on. The flashbacks where specially adjusted to have a very different look than the current time stuff. They were shot highly saturated, desaturated, then pumped with yellow and red, for a very distinctive feel that was nonetheless very clear.

It is hard to imagine that anyone could watch this film without being moved by it. So much of it has the ring of truth. This is not a feel good film, although each of the characters finds all the redemption they deserve, but it is certainly an effective one, and will give most people many things to think about.

The Critics Vote

  • No major reviews (no theatrical release). The online sites scored it between two and a half and three stars. scored it 4/5, Film Threat scored it 3/5.

  • The film was nominated for some Independent Spirit awards, and an Emmy (except for film festivals, it appeared first on cable TV)

The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, both reviewers called it a C+. Scoop says, "A tight, economical script, some credible characters, solid actors, and a very affecting story make up for the cheap DV look and the often unpleasant musical score. This film is not for everyone, but you'll find it a terrific movie if the description appeals to you. The exceptionally high IMDb score reflects the regard many people feel for this film."

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