The Importance of Storytelling in "Stories We Tell"

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Stories We Tell (2012)

is an autobiographical documentary about Sarah Polley family and her history. The documentary reveals Polley’s life through the characters that enhance the thematic concern of the film. It starts with, Polley who asks her sister about this film being made. “Who fucking cares about our family? Can I swear?” her sister responds (Busch 491). The response from her sister is almost a funny story, and in fact, it is critical to Polley’s outset of life history and documentary filmmaking.

Sarah's Sister Joanna

Her sister Joanna plays a significant role in giving her thoughts concerning her memories on the family issues and their complicated relationships (Busch 490). However, before the commencement of their dialogue, she questions about everything concerning the documentary, and whether it has any significance in society. However, it is clear that the film plays a vital role in enhancing family memory depicted in some characters such as Diane’s affair, pregnancy, and death.

The Story Revolves Around Diane Polley

The story in the documentary revolves around Diane Polley, manager’s vigorous mother, and sometimes a stage actress. It was stipulated that she died of cancer a time when Polley was eleven years old. When she was twenty years old, Polley realized that her mother was in an affair with the documentary producer. She also realized that even though she was brought up by Michael Polley, her father, she is the result of the issue (Busch 490). Though it is not confirmed, until Sarah herself discovered it, the story has been in the family for many years. In the first instance, it was a joke that Sarah hardly looks like her father. However, she somewhat resembles her father. As such it was a critical memory to remember such issues so that she would trace her background.

Polley's Oldest Brother

Sometimes back, Sarah’s oldest brother had heard a phone conversation where the mother where the mother stated that she did not know the mother of the kid. Sarah starts to look for men that are believed to have slept with her mother to identify who was the birth father. They even undergo a DNA test, and it is established that Harry Gulkin a critical Canadian movie producer is her genetic father (Busch 478). Such memories are important in the movie, and also in real life situations since it brings a connection between Diane Polley and Sarah who is believed to be her real daughter and she is not.

Polley's Sister Joanna

Even as she brings a lot of skepticism in the film, Polley’s sister abruptly concedes the influence of her sister who is the director and the interviewer of the documentary. “Can I swear?” she inquires from the documentarian off the screen. Joanna says her firm viewpoint and starts again to recognize her sister. The short argument enhances the push-pull and gives the viewer to take an outline that continues throughout the documentary taking unique forms (Busch 482). From this strategy, it is clear that the film makes a state of autobiography and filmmaking showing how memory is critical in many instances enhancing the thematic concern of the film.

The Synopsis of the Documentary

The synopsis of the documentary scarcely captures the experience of watching “Stories We Tell.” It mostly reflects on the short version of the movie’s anonymity and drama. Polley is not interested in the plot of the film but depicting how memory plays an important role in every life undertaking. One of her interviewers describes the plot of the story with “very…firm structure…with great sadness and with great joy” (Waites 548). She tries to show how a story that depicts a perfect narrative of a life situation and that is what Polley tries to portray. She also identifies the truths about the real-life situations that people, and how such a condition can be represented by character and characterization in a film.

Polley's Hypothesis of Harmonic Biography

Polley’s hypothesis of harmonic biography and the documentary filmmaking receives the manipulation of influence and skills in different ways. The chorus and voices she makes seem to be visible and authentic and involves a lot of facts about the past and the contemporary world. Most of the documentaries regularly interrogate professionals or eyewitnesses as they build their argument based on what is reflected in life.

Abortion After Pregnancy

Abortion after the pregnancy in question is a striking thing in the film. She contemplated abortion concerning the pregnancy in question. The issue put life-and-death nervousness into Sarah, the filmmaker, and the readers. The considered abortion undercuts the over-romanticizing and admiration of the full-time mother who the readers also miss so much. Therefore, it is a memory for the readers to realize that Diane was larger than life and was still a lady full of spirit (Waites 554). As such, she brought her conflict over the pregnancy she wanted to end.

Sarah's Father Michael

Sarah’s father Michael is the author and reporter. Interestingly, the director Sarah embraces a couple of times when she asks to revise his lines, and she involves whatever is constituted in the film such as the old reading and director’s involvement. In such a situation she tries to create a memory that the film represents most of her parts, and it is her story and not his.

The Narrative of Michael and Diane

The narrative of Michael and Diane also seems to fit in creating a memory for the people. For instance, there is his idea as a husband. The documentary depicts the time when Diane and Michael met when Diane was acting the play. He feels that Diane fell in love with him due to the character he played in the film and not him (Waites 543). He, therefore, states that he is a disappointment and takes it with a lot of pain to move some of the numbness in the matrimony. He refers to himself as a “dead wombat” of a husband sexually.

Emotion Hits on Michael

Reacting to that image of what Michael thinks of himself, readers may believe probably of gay identity or a reference to erectile dysfunction. However, if a reader also finds in the issue of gay or erectile dysfunction, he or she may sound literal. It is just like any other issue that the society face since literature and any work of art is a reflection of the society’s practices. There is a situation where high emotion hits on him when Sarah stops his commentary, and he states, “I convinced myself,” relating to his acting and his understanding of the narrative he has written (Waites 554). It is, therefore, clear that he feels realistic to himself in some ways as an actor but he still conceals himself from being dramatic as the actor than being a lover. In some situations here is part of the reward where the movie is catalyzed to show his creativity as a writer.

The Sisters and Brothers

The sisters and brothers who are interviewed in the film portray a lot of nervousness on doing harm or experiencing the pain that people have in their daily undertakings. Mark who is a brother to Sarah is stated as having been told by his lawyer not to talk (Waites 547). The other brother named John mourns as he indicates his pain on the mother’s rejection for the first family and the soreness is raw and unsettled. It is a situation reflected in many instances of life and mostly on family issues.

Conformist, Idealistic Change

There is a conformist, idealistic change in some parts of the film where Sarah meets Harry, her biological father. The reader also realizes the stifling concern between Diane and Harry (Waites 548). Instead of showing all the romantic instances, the film gets more complicated when the main character starts to struggle about the individual capability and knowledge to identify the person superior than the other. Sarah falls in love with Harry just the same way her mother did, and she declares the story of perfect love.


In general, there are different strategies which authors use to depict their thematic concern in any written work of art. “Stories We Tell” documentary is a clear reflection of the instances that people face in real-life situations. Diane is among the main characters used to depict how affair and pregnancy can play a vital role in creating a memory of things a person did in the past. It also represents her generosity in most instances of the documentary, and she is remembered by other people differently due to her excellent personality.

Works Cited

Busch, F. (2015). Working through Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (and the issue of creative expression). The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 96(2), 477-491.

Waites, Kate J. "Sarah Polley's Documemoir Stories We Tell: The Refracted Subject." Biography 38.4 (2016): 543-555.

September 25, 2023

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