No matter how much we love someone, no matter how much time we spend around them, we never truly know them. Even when we’ve spent enough time to know their routines and their flaws, we can never really know the person we love. Director Sarah Polley constructs an extraordinary documentary in where she attempts to figure out who her mother was. Surely, she knows who her mother was, but after her death, she’s spent an immense amount of her time during her film trying to figure out who she was. And surely enough, she realizes the person her mother was, wasn’t the person everyone else knew her as.
What’s more gripping about “Stories We Tell” is that director Polley knows that the woman she knew and the woman behind the image of her mother affected the lives of her and her siblings, whether she realizes it or not. Polley makes a point of explaining how she and her sister are both divorced and have a difficult time with relationships, thus prompting her to figure out why. For many, the exploration of our parents as human beings, breaking the image we had of them can be shocking and incredibly emotional, and Polley is a consummate professional. As director she seeks the truth from everyone around her, and is unwilling to back down and learn about her mother as a human being, even when she learns things she wished she wasn’t told.
The research leads her in to a gripping and very sad tale of a woman with a zest for life who could never really find what she was looking for to achieve such happiness. Even when she adored her children and was the best mother she could be, she always seemed to want to look for more, and this stifled the potential she had to burst from her seams. Through old home movies and candid almost brutally honest interviews with Ms. Polley’s family and old friends, she’s able to compile a very touching and compelling film that unfolds a sad tale of a beautiful woman. “Stories We Tell” not only becomes a journey for the viewer, but for Polley herself, who is a very insistent interviewer and looks for as much of the honest moments of her mom’s life wherever she can find it.
There’s frequent correspondence with an old friend of her mother’s, and she even delves in to the long thought rumor that her birth father was never actually the one who helped conceive her. Polley’s film is extraordinary and Polley herself an immaculate director who skillfully prevents “Stories We Tell” from feeling like a cloying bit of self-indulgence from an artist. Director Polley takes much of the revelations in stride, and perhaps garners insight in to how she can change and or improve her life. More so, she must, in the end, figure out how to think of her mom again, and re-consider the dynamics between her siblings and her father. What “Stories We Tell” has to offer viewers above all else, is the lesson and harsh fact that no matter how closely we hold someone in our hearts, we never really know them one hundred percent.