Archive for the ‘Sarah Polley’ Tag

White Lies (1998)   3 comments

The Main Menu to the DVD

All images are screen captures courtesy of a legal DVD and the PowerDVD program.



Sarah Polley as Catherine Chapman

Tanya Allen as Erina Baxter

Jonathan Scarfe as Ian McKee

Lynn Redgrave as Inga Kolneder

Made for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television

Directed by Kari Skogland

Rated R in the U.S.A.


This is another in my series of occasional posts in which I review selections from the filmed work of Tanya Allen, a Canadian actress whose film and television work more people should watch.  This time I cover a well-made television movie about Canadian Neo-Nazis.

White Lies boasts an excellent cast.   There is Tanya Allen, of course.  Then we have the pleasure of watching Sarah Polley work.  You, O reader, might have seen Away from Her, a movie about the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on a marriage.  Sarah Polley directed that one a few years after making this.  As for her other screen work, you might have come across The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Exotica, The Claim, The Weight of Water, Beowulf and GrendelThe Sweet Hereafter, My Life Without Me, No Such Thing, GuinevereThe Secret Life of Words, and John Adams.  That is the list I can muster off the top of my head.  Polley has been an activist since her youth, when the Walt Disney corporation blacklisted her for opposing the First Gulf War (1990-1991) publicly;  she refused to remove a peace symbol at a children’s programming awards event in Washington, D.C.  She doesn’t need Disney anymore, fortunately.

Lynn Redgrave as Inga Kolneder

Lynn Redgrave, sister of Vanessa and daughter of Michael, both respected thespians as well, plays Inga Kolneder, leader and cofounder (with her late husband) of the National Identity Movement, a Neo-Nazi organization.  It is everything a clearheaded person expects:  violent, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, unapologetically racist, and full of Holocaust deniers.  It is safe to say that, given the international politics of the Redgrave family, the only similarity between the late Lynn Redgrave and her character was outward appearance.

Tanya Allen as Erina Baxter

As for Tanya Allen, she made her disapproval of hatred plain in one of the special features.  It is odd to watch her act in White Lies, for she has to utter some extremely hateful language.  It must have been uncomfortable for her.

Consistent with my usual pattern in movie reviews, I will leave most of the film’s plot for the viewer discover.  So I choose to set up the premise and make some comments here.

A One World Week Event in a High School

White Lies opens with a high school assembly.  Allen Green, a liberal newspaper columnist, concludes a presentation in which he extols the virtues of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society which embraces and accepts differences.

An Important Question

Senior Catherine Chapman thinks that Green is not entirely correct.  She does not think of herself as a racist.  Indeed, she is not one at the beginning of the movie.  Yet she does have a legitimate complaint which Green brushes off by accusing her of being a racist.  Recently Catherine applied for a job flipping burgers at a local mall.  The manager asked if she were bilingual.  She replied yes; she was fluent in English and French.  That was not the bilingual combination the manager wanted, however.  Catherine did not get the job because she did not speak Cantonese.  Her allegedly racist question at the assembly regarded how many questions she needs to know to get a job flipping burgers.

One of Catherine’s teachers gives a classroom assignment to write about One World Week.  She “does not get into the spirit,” however, so the teacher gives an “F” to her critique, “Christmas is Dead.”  The teacher offers Catherine a chance to write a positive essay, but she declines.  Instead, she uses a pseudonym, Hot Head, and submits it to a contest she finds in an online chat room which, as it turns out, belongs to the National Identity Movement (NIM).  Thus Catherine makes her entrance into NIM via her first contact, Erina Baxter, and begins to write tracts under her nom de plume, Hot Head.  Catherine finds herself immersed in a world of hatred, violence, and Holocaust denial.  Catherine, now a freshman at a local university, goes along for a while, but she begins to experience doubts.  Entering a Neo-Nazi organization is easier than leaving it, however.

So, what is the moral of the story?  To say, “Neo-Nazism is bad,” although accurate as a stand-alone statement, does not answer the question well.  No, I think that one correct answer is to avoid the two extremes of ethnocentrism, in which one dismisses out of hand other cultures, and cultural relativism, which leads to a mushy embrace of differences and an abandonment of all standards while assuaging guilt over millennia and centuries of ethnocentrism.  The second good answer to the question is that we ought provide honest and thoughtful answers to real questions, and not fuel resentment.  “How many languages do I need to know to flip burgers?” was a legitimate question.  It deserved a real answer.

The good news about White Lies is that it avoids the stereotypical afterschool special formula.  (Those were annoying and overly simplistic programs.)  Truly bad and irrevocable results (especially for the younger members of NIM) flow from becoming a Neo-Nazi.  Yet the movie avoids becoming too preachy, thereby avoiding the unpardonable sin rampant in most 1980s U.S. afterschool specials, which have scarred my consciousness.  Rather, the screenwriter and the director allow the consequences to speak for themselves.

Some online reviewers have complained that the Neo-Nazis come across as insufficiently complex and, oddly enough, as too unsympathetic.  Let me be clear:  We are talking about Neo-Nazis–racists, arsonists, Holocaust deniers, and domestic terrorists–not Gandhians.  True, they have some legitimate complaints about vigilante violence directed at them, but they commit their share vigilante violence too.  They are not innocents.  How sympathetic ought they to seem?

Next in my Tanya Allen series, I will lighten the tone greatly and move toward the whimsical with Fancy Dancing.