By Michael Castaneda
Published: May 8th, 2019
At the Heart of Gold, directed by Erin Lee Carr, flows in a mostly steady stream like Eminem or Logic with barely any noticeable breath between phrases. There is not as much punctuation as a Kendrick or Drake. For the most part of the movie, it watches like a cathartic scream. It reminded me of a scream you might hear in mixed into a Pink Floyd album.
This is a documentary about the victims of Larry Nassar, a USA Olympic national team doctor convicted of sexually assaulting girls who were mostly minors. Two hundred and fifty women gave statements during his trial and Michigan State University, who was an employer of Nassar, settled a 500-million-dollar lawsuit for 332 victims that came forward. The time period is roughly 20 years that Nasser got away with his crimes against children.
He was also convicted of having 37,000 child pornography images on his computer. Interestingly enough, this is not considered to be a lot.
The one thing I often forget when I hear about a conviction like this is, as horrible as it sounds, I think “well that’s it, that’s all of it,” but I often forget that this is just what was found. What about old computers, external hard drives, et cetera? Inductively speaking, it is hard to believe that this is the entire collection or the total number of girls he has harmed. Instead, the subjective probability is high since this is just a subset. Let’s face it, we may never know the true number of girls assaulted by Dr. Nassar.
So, how was he able to get away with it for so long? There were complaints but no one believed, acted on, or even listened to these girls. McKalya Maroney, whom you might remember as the Olympic Gymnast with a smirk (there was a famous picture of her with President Obama doing the smirk) was assaulted by Nassar in 2011 in Tokyo. He had actually been molesting her for years and she told people out loud in Tokyo but no one did anything. This was reported in the Chicago Tribune and other places.
Maroney was not featured in this documentary, but similar stories were told.
Overall, this was a hard documentary to watch. It’s only 88 minutes long. In an age where an average movie is two-plus hours, the film length was appropriate because not everyone can stomach this type of subject matter, which is a horrible thing say. But remember, hundreds of women will have to live this for the rest of their lives, and I can barely take 88 minutes of it.
I remember when I first saw this on the news. It had about 35% percent of my focus. There were about 20 seconds of attention that I gave every time there was a development in the story. All I knew was that there was a man, who I now recognized as Nassar, had sexually abused gymnasts. I knew it was bad because it stayed in the news over a long period of time. That was my gauge of it.
It’s easy to not look at something so horrible because it challenges our perceived control that everything is alright. Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We turn off to this type of story, not because we are bad but because we are just trying to get through the day.
This movie focuses on the victims and their stories and not much about Nassar as a person. As the filmmakers said in the Q.A at the Tribeca Film Festival, the movie about Nassar is for someone else to make. There has been a movement post-#MeToo to focus on the victims of crimes against women but not the perpetrator. What happens is the victims become unimportant details in a narrative which unintentionally turns the criminal into a celebrity, if not a legend. This is why there are Son of Sam laws, which state that criminals are not allowed to make money off their crimes. We see this coming up in the retelling of the Jack the Ripper tale, where the lives of the five women who he murdered are now being told instead of having him as the focus.
The movie itself is a well-edited collection of archival footage and interviews enhanced by Bryan Sarkinen’s brilliant cinematography.
The downside of the movie is that stylistically; it can get a bit heavy-handed. The music is too dramatic that it distracts from the women’s stories. I found myself struggling to listen to the interview over the music. Toward the end of the movie, there are some moving shots of the women being interviewed, which I think is meant to show power but instead, it feels uncomfortable. It ends with a Sia song that was too over the top to be effective. At these times it took the audiences’ attention away from the subjects of the film and refocuses it on the filmmaker.
All these things are minor though. What I like the most of about the film as a piece of work is how organic it felt. From the time its starts till everything unravels, there is a brilliant minimalistic approach to storytelling that where the audience goes along for the ride; a sad, angry, and hurtful ride, but it’s an unforgettable experience.
With the arrest and conviction of Nassar (in which he will in jail for the rest of his life), the movie ends with a triumphal moment. I wonder how much of a triumph was it. This man who molested young girls multiples a day, sometimes 800 times in a few years, needs to go away forever. We believe that if someone was sexual inappropriate once, they should be punished. I am not sure why we think that. Maybe because we see that on TV or because it is written in the law. Like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, it took countless assaults for any actions to be taken.
One annoying thought that came to mind during this movie was that the three states where this scandal takes place are Texas, Indiana, and Michigan; three states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It reminded me of an analysis done on women who support Trump. In a nutshell, women who supported Donald Trump were not swayed by his remarks on women, the #MeToo movement, his racism, et cetera, because they were looking out for their own best interest; by supporting a platform that protects bad male behavior. These women are more likely to have traditional families where the male is the sole breadwinner. If a man is in danger of losing his livelihood because of his behavior, then his wife and children’s livelihood go with it. If there is more of a culture that protects successful men in those states, then I believe Nassar most likely benefited there too.
I spoke to the director, Erin Carr. She said that she would want Brooklyn College students to take this film as a hopeful film that people can stand up and be heard. She also said that she only gets six hours of sleep but hopes to get more. I know is a non-sequitur, but I wanted to throw that in.
At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal is now showing on HBO.